George Coucounis explains why property owners in Cyprus must show diligence regarding foreseeable risks in order to prevent accidents from happening.
Every occupier of an immovable property has the legal and social duty to act diligently so that to protect any person who lawfully enters his property from suffering any loss or damage due to a risk that could have been reasonably anticipated.
There are numerous risks involved nowadays taking into consideration the large range of human activities offered and in which we are invited to participate. For this reason, the occupier of an immovable property, i.e. the owner, the tenant or the licensee or any other person lawfully possessing or using it, who also has the right or power to invite or allow the entrance of a third person therein, is under the obligation to minimize the risks and to keep the place reasonably safe for his visitors. The liability of the occupier is based on the fact that he is the one who is in possession of the property and the one who exercises the control and looks after it. Such an immovable property can be a house, shop, apartment, supermarket, club, sports centres etc.
The issue of the occupier’s liability is regulated by article 51(2)(b) of the Civil Wrongs Law, Cap.148, which refers to negligence as (a) performing some act which in the circumstances a reasonable prudent person would not do or failing to do some act which in the circumstances such a person would do, or (b) failing to use such skill or take such care in the exercise of a profession, trade or occupation as a reasonable prudent person qualified to exercise such profession, trade or occupation would in the circumstances use or take, and thereby causing damage.
Furthermore, there is a provision in the law that compensation shall only be recovered by any person to whom the person guilty of negligence owed a duty, in the circumstances, not to be negligent. The occupier of any immovable property shall owe such a duty to all persons who are, and to the owner of any property which is lawfully in or upon or so near to such immovable property as in the usual course of things to be affected by the negligence.
The following two examples are given from the case law to offer a better understanding of the provisions of the aforesaid law.
In a case regarding premises used for the sale and repair of car tyres, a driver went there to have the tyres filled with air. While he was there, the tyre burst and injured him. The Court found the company liable for negligence because they failed to warn him about the risk of the tyre bursting and to take precautionary measures for his protection.
According to the common law, the liability is based on the possession and the control of the premises and therefore, everyone has the duty in the exercise of his business to take reasonable measures in order to protect every person who is lawfully therein, independently of whether he is an invitee or a licensee, from suffering any loss or damage and they are liable for any unnecessary risks which they know or ought to know. The occupier has a duty to make sure the premises to be reasonably safe, but he is not an insurer. His duty is not to prevent any unnecessary risk but to prevent any damage caused by any unnecessary risk which he knows or ought to know.
In another case, a six-year-old child went to a park with his nanny and eight-year-old to play. While there he fell off a toy and was injured. The toy consisted of a rod between two pillars, from which the children were hanging, moving from the one end to the other. It at a height of 1.5m - 2m above the ground and there was no ditch to protect the children in case they fall down. The Court held that the local authority being the occupier of the park did not fulfil its duty of care owed to the child since the game placed there was not safe for children of his age. The authority failed to take reasonable measures to make the game safe and consequently exposed the children to the risk of being injured while using it.
The local authority was also found to have omitted to warn that the particular game constituted a risk for young children. The degree of liability of the occupier in respect of children who happen to be in the property is higher compared to adults as they must be expected to be careless. Something which would not be dangerous for an adult can be for a child. In the particular case, the property was a public park and a place where the children could play. Therefore, it is evident that no liability can be apportioned to the parents or to the nanny of the child.
The occupiers of any immovable property must show diligence and interest regarding foreseeable risks in order to prevent any accidents from happening to anyone. They are also advised to have their property insured for such risks.
George Coucounis is an experienced lawyer practicing in Larnaca, Cyprus.
Educated at University College (London) and Thessaloniki University (Greece), George is fluent in English and has been practicing law in Cyprus since 1982.