The public management of liability risks

Simon Halliday, Jonathan Ilan, Colin Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Contemporary discussions of the relationship between negligence liability and the provision of services by both public and private organisations frequently advert to the emergence of a ‘compensation culture’. Despite empirical evidence that compensation culture claims are somewhat inflated, an anxiety persists that risks of tortious liability may still undermine the implementation of public policy. Concerns about the potential negative effects of liability on public administration frame the problem in various ways: first, there is an anxiety that public authorities may over-react to liability risks by becoming excessively risk averse. Second, there is a fear that compensation claiming will divert financial resources away from service delivery and towards the payment of insurance premiums and compensation awards. Third, there is the fear that insurance companies will, as ‘risk bullies’, curtail public service activities. And, finally, there is the suggestion that risk management, including legal risk management, is becoming the dominant mode of government decision-making to the exclusion of professional judgement. This article addresses these concerns through a set of empirical case studies about the management of liability risks associated with road maintenance services. Although our findings suggest that public authorities respond to liability risks in a variety of ways, we found only limited evidence of the above concerns. In general terms, it was a case of public authorities being risk aware and responsive as opposed to risk averse.
Original languageEnglish
Article numbergqr009
Pages (from-to)527-550
Number of pages24
JournalOxford Journal of Legal Studies
Issue number3
Early online date17 May 2011
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2011

Bibliographical note

© The Author 2011. Published by Oxford University Press. This is an author produced version of a paper published in Oxford Journal of Legal Studies. Uploaded in accordance with the publisher's self-archiving policy.


  • tort law
  • compensation culture
  • public administration
  • risk management
  • legal liability

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