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06 March 2017 laia

Roof collapse at academic hospital highlights liability issues

Last week, a section of a roof collapsed at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital in Johannesburg. With at least five people injured during the incident, this accident again highlights the dangers relating to building collapse and the very real safety issues that currently exist in the local construction industry, following a spate of incidents of the last few years.

Simon Colman, Executive Head at SHA Specialist Underwriters, says that it is vital for any business to have liability cover in place to ensure that the responsible party is able to pay for the injuries, if they are liable, while also ensuring that the parties who aren’t liable can defend themselves.

“When a building collapses, this first question often asked is who is liable for the accident: the building contractor, the architect, geo-technical contractors, the slab engineer or perhaps even the property owner. It is uncertain which of the parties involved will be responsible for the damage to the building and surrounding property, as well as injuries to employees and any other parties. As a result, it is imperative that all these parties have effective cover in place.”

Colman explains that liability-based insurance cover responds to the threat of litigation and covers defence costs, as well as costs associated with damages. There are five main types of liability cover required for a building site including:

  • Public Liability – for the property owner to cover any damages/injuries caused to members of the public as a result of the building site.
  • Contract Works Insurance- Whilst this is not classified as liability cover, it does allow contractors to cover damage to the property being worked upon caused by contractors.
  • Contractors Liability – for the contractors to cover property not being worked upon and resultant bodily injury/death claims.
  • Single Project Professional Indemnity – for the professionals (architects, engineers, project managers) in the event they become injured on site; and
  • Personal Accident – for the employer to cover costs associated with injuries to the workers on site.

Due to the complexity of liability cover it is very important to try and control the insurance elements of a contract by using one broker, with as few policies in place as possible, to cover the entire contract, advises Colman.

He says it is also important to note that if property owners or contractors proceed with construction that does not have the required regulatory approval, they may be negating any cover available under their liability policies.

“While adequate liability cover cannot prevent tragedy, it can ensure that all parties are properly compensated for their losses or injuries to best ensure proper recourse is not an issue following a terrible accident,” concludes Colman.

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