Australian website owners have been warned to include disclaimers on their site or risk being sued for millions of dollars following a recent UK decision.
The UK case, Pratchett v Swimming Pool and Allied Trades Association, involved an online recommendation made by a builder who later became insolvent. McCullough Robertson partner Partner at McClullough Robertson David Downie told Lawyers Weekly that the court's decision confirms the possibility that website owners owe a duty of care to visitors and may be liable if they are negligent.
While UK decisions are not binding on Australian courts, judges could still look to them for guidance, which could have far reaching ramifications, Downie said.
"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 said.
"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."
Following publicity from the UK case, Downie said inquiries from businesses wanting to protect their websites from liability had increased, and he also predicted that litigation would rise due to the number of people relying on information from the internet.
Downie said website owners can take steps to reduce the risk of a duty of care being assumed.
"My advice is firstly to be responsible in relation to content that is on websites, and secondly to put in place prominent disclaimers of responsibility and urge visitors to your website to perform their own checks as to the accuracy of the information on the website," he said.
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
- Sarah Sharples