UK case delivers blow for website owners


Australian website owners risk being sued for substantial damages if their websites do not include a disclaimer, following a UK Court of Appeal decision

UK case delivers blow for website owners
UK case delivers blow for website owners

August 25, 2009

Australian website owners risk being sued for substantial damages if their websites do not include a disclaimer, following a recent UK Court of Appeal decision.

The case of Pratchett v Swimming Pool and Allied Trades Association, which involved the online recommendation of a builder that later became insolvent, confirmed that it is possible for website owners to owe a duty of care to visitors to their website and to be liable if they are negligent.

McCullough Robertson Partner David Downie says the case, which is a first of its kind, may have far-reaching ramifications and opens the door for litigation in Australia if a user suffers damages as a result of reliance upon information provided on a website.

"Website owners could potentially be sued for millions of dollars if a user relied on information contained on their website which resulted in significant losses," he says.

"Under Australian law, the complainant would have to establish there is a duty of care, which is more likely to be inferred if a statement on the website is going to be relied upon by a particular class of users."

Downie says website owners can reduce the risk of a duty of care being assumed and avoid potential liability by displaying clear disclaimers on their websites which instruct visitors to seek further information before relying on what they read.

"There is a lack of case law in Australia, but the UK example show the importance of disclaimers and how website owners could be negligent in not having appropriate ones or any at all," he says.

"With an increasing number of people relying on the internet for information, I expect this is an area where we will see an increasing level of litigation so businesses should take care."

TIPS FOR DISCLAIMERS

  • State that you are not assuming a duty of care in connection with the website
  • Make it clear that users should not rely on the information being provided
  • Suggest that users should independently verify the information
  • State that you are not liable for loss or damage suffered by the user in connection with the website.


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