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The public management of liability risks

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Publication details

JournalOxford Journal of Legal Studies
DateE-pub ahead of print - 17 May 2011
DatePublished (current) - Sep 2011
Issue number3
Number of pages24
Pages (from-to)527-550
Early online date17/05/11
Original languageEnglish


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.

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© 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.

    Research areas

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

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