Council liability for injury or damage to property

How to make a complaint when you are injured or have suffered property damage and believe a council is liable.

Can we help?

We rarely investigate complaints about council liability.

This is because we cannot decide whether a council is liable, or whether compensation should be paid. Only a court can decide these matters.

We will consider the reasons provided by council or its insurer not to accept liability. If those reasons appear to have a reasonable basis, the we will not investigate further.

Common complaints about council liability for injury and damages

Councils have responsibility for a wide range of functions, including maintenance of roads, parks and cemeteries, water supply, sewerage, and stormwater drainage.

Common complaints about councils involve injury or damage to property from potholes, obstacles on footpaths, falling branches, flooding or subsidence.

If you are injured or suffer damage to your property because of council action (or inaction) you can make a complaint under council’s administrative actions complaints process.

If you are unhappy with council’s decision, you can request an internal review. Council should provide reasons for its decision.

You may also need to consider whether to make a liability claim on council. You should contact your council to find out what is required. You may also wish to consult a legal adviser to prepare a claim.

How are complaints considered?

Complaints about liability of a council for injury or damage are considered against the requirements of the Civil Liability Act 2003 (the Civil Liability Act) and common law (law developed by judges using precedents).

For a council to be held liable for injury or property damage, it must be shown that council owed a duty of care, that it breached that duty of care and that this resulted in damage.

The Civil Liability Act contains principles that restrict liability claims against councils, including that:

  • the functions performed by councils are limited by financial and other resourcing considerations
  • allocation of financial or other resources is not open to challenge
  • the full range of council’s functions are to be considered
  • council may rely on compliance with general procedures while carrying out its functions.

What happens with my complaint?

A council may make a decision about your complaint or refer the matter to its public liability insurer. Council, or its insurer, are entitled to accept or deny liability for injury or damage.

People who disagree with council’s decision regarding its liability for injury or damages should seek legal advice.