By Karen Walsh
In the past year, Met Éireann has issued two red level severe weather warnings, for Storm Ophelia and Storm Emma.
Both storms caused significant disruption and resulted in damage to property.
During such storms, civilians are normally advised for their safety not to leave their homes, but this does not prevent accidents and property damage from occurring in public places, homes, workplaces, and the roads.
You may also have concerns as to whether you are legally obliged to attend work, and whether you will be paid.
In this article, we discuss how your legal rights are affected in severe weather.
In respect of accidents, insurance will normally be in place. Motorists are required by law to ensure their vehicle is insured. An occupier of a public place, or an employer, should have a public or employers liability policy in place.
If parties are involved in an accident they should immediately report it to their insurers.
Ahead of the storms, Insurance Ireland which represents the insurance industry in Ireland, made a statement, saying the following would be covered in the severe weather:
Damage to cars caused by the storm is covered by comprehensive motor insurance policies;
Third party fire and theft policies cover motorists for damage to other cars in the event of an accident, injury to other people, or damage to your car in the event of a fire or theft;
Household buildings and contents insurance policies cover storm damage;
Insurers will usually pay for temporary repairs, so it is advisable to keep receipts;
Insurers will also usually pay for the cost of alternative accommodation, if the home becomes uninhabitable.
The coverage will depend on the terms of specific insurance policies; it is strongly advisable you read the policy conditions and contact your insurer to ascertain the level of cover in place, before bringing a claim.
If you have been in an accident, it is recommended that you report to your insurer and if you have suffered injury, attend your GP or a hospital.
In the event that you wish to bring a claim for injury, it is advisable that you consult with a solicitor who will explain to you the process of bringing such a claim, and potentially act on your behalf.
In respect of snow and accidents in public places, the Attorney General’s office recently confirmed there is no legal obligation on people to clear the footpaths in front of their homes or business premises, and no liability for any accident is created by doing so, as long as the footpath is not left in a more dangerous state after, according to the Department of Housing, Planning, and Local Government.
In the event of heavy winds, and an object being displaced from your lands or property to a neighbouring property, the law of nuisance is considered.
More than likely, this will not apply, as the winds would not be classified as your use of the lands or property.
Nuisance is normally an unreasonable, or unlawful use of one’s property in a manner that substantially interferes with the enjoyment or use of another individual’s property.
However, if property is displaced due to bad weather, you may have an obligation to remove this from your land or neighbouring land; there may potentially be a liability, if an accident results from this.
In respect of accidents which occur during the course of employment, employers are advised to consider their obligations depending on the nature of the work. For instance, if the work is outdoors, and is emergency in nature, it may be advisable to have risk assessments in place specifically dealing with tasks that may need to be carried out in adverse weather.
There is no legislation in Ireland that addresses employee rights to pay for days missed at work due to adverse weather. If a business remains open in bad weather, and employees cannot travel to work or have to remain at home due to school closures, strictly there is no legal obligation on an employer to pay employees for days missed at work. However, this would be subject to whether provision has been made in employment contracts and policies.
If you have any legal concerns arising out of the recent adverse weather, it is advisable you consult a solicitor.
Karen Walsh, from a farming background, is a solicitor practicing in Walsh & Partners, Solicitors, 17, South Mall, Cork (021-4270200), and author of ‘Farming and the Law’. Walsh & Partners also specialises in personal injury claims, conveyancing, probate and family law.
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