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As lawyers one of the things we see a lot of is people not knowing where they stand legally and not understanding what they might be entitled to. This is not all that surprising- there are a huge range of situations people can find themselves in and it would be impossible for most people to be aware of their rights in all of these areas.

There are lots of examples of where this happens, but before dealing with these, one important point that needs to be made is that if you find yourself in one of these situations it is best not to rely on the views of friends and neighbours about your position. You wouldn’t ask your lawyer or accountant for advice on how to grow a crop or look after livestock, so why would you ask a friend or neighbour about tax or legal issues?

What is common with all these scenarios is that it will typically involve a more experienced company or entity dealing with someone who is not as familiar with the law or as experienced in negotiations. Not surprisingly, the more experienced company or entity will be looking to obtain the best deal it can- the best way to deal with this is to have someone in your corner who is just as experienced with the law and negotiating.

One example which is particularly relevant at the moment is landowners who are dealing with mining companies. Whilst land access issues with mining companies has been an issue for some time, it has been back in the news recently as a result of the current State Government’s decision not to progress any of the recommendations from a cross-parliamentary select committee review. The consequence of this is that the ‘rules’ regarding mining companies accessing someone’s land remain the same.

For those who get a knock on the door from a mining company, they are left having to deal with an experienced mining company and trying work out where they stand legally and what compensation they might be entitled to. There can be a range of questions which come from this- does the mining company have an entitlement to access all or part of the land; what limits can be placed on access; what can you be compensated for; what about impact on crops or livestock?

Other examples of where this might occur include:

  • where someone is injured (either at work or while driving) and is left dealing with insurance companies - are there any legal limitations; who is the correct person to pursue for compensation; what matters get taken into account for compensation?
  • where there are issues with products or equipment supplied and the person is left dealing with large companies or insurance companies- again, are there any legal limitations (which might include contractual issues); are there any limits on the compensation that can be sought?
  • where there is a company wanting to set up wind turbines or install solar panel arrays on the land and it is negotiating a contract for this access- what terms are typical in agreement of this kind; have all issues been considered; what access arrangements are in place; what is the duration and are there rights of renewal; does the equipment have to be removed at the end of the term; what happens if the company goes into liquidation?

As you can see, the range of issues you might need to deal with can be significant.

Unfortunately what we see all too often in these scenarios is a person who has been taken advantage of. This can either be by having a contract or agreement that does not contain all the terms it should to protect the person, or by being paid a lesser amount of compensation than they might have been able to obtain. In some cases the difference could be hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The most important thing for someone in any of these situations is that they are fully informed as to what their rights are so they are not taken advantage of. If you know what your legal position is, and what you are entitled to, it will mean you are negotiating from a position of strength.

This article was published in The Stock Journal on Thursday 8 September 2022.