Solicitor Matthew Lewis* recently told visitors to a Leasehold Management Professionals meeting about an interesting case his practice had dealt with. It serves as a useful reminder about leaseholders’ collective liability to visitors, the importance of insurance against legal action, and the additional risks that may be present in some older buildings.
The case involved serious injuries when a visitor to a block of flats slashed an artery. She had accidentally put her hand through glass on the front door, which did not meet current British Safety Standards.
Fortunately for the Residents Management Association, they were not financially liable because the solicitors were able to prove that, where glass was installed prior to the requirements of the Building Regulations 2012 (2013 Edition), there was no duty on the occupiers or residents, or management company of the flats, to replace the glass unless the glass was defective in some way.
For example if the glass had been previously chipped, or cracked then a duty would have arisen and either the residents of the flats would have found themselves facing a very serious claim or, if the association had no appreciable assets, then the injured party might have pursued individual directors through the courts.
Unfortunately, the Association in this case still had to pay the legal fees. Had they invested in a risk assessment and legal expenses insurance, they may have saved themselves some money, and Directors & Officers liability cover might have saved the Directors from months of worry.
However, probably the most important lesson here is to understand the importance of Building Regulations. Is your block compliant?
In this case, while the block was found not to be liable, the residents would rather not have risked such injuries to themselves or their visitors. Building Regulations are revised and updated for good reason: does your block have unsafe glass panels? Anything more than five years old may be at risk of not meeting current building regulation requirements.
*Matthew Lewis is a Partner and Head of Residential Leasehold Property at Coles Miller LLP, based in Bournemouth. He is also a founding member of Leasehold Management Professionals (LMP).
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