The NSW District Court denied a plaintiff damages last week in a claim against a supermarket after she slipped on a grape on the floor in Razzak v Coles Supermarkets Australia Ltd (2016/142308 – unreported).
Russell DCJ heard that when the plaintiff had been shopping at the supermarket one morning in 2015 she had walked past an employee stocking a display of grapes when she slipped and fell. When she got up off the floor she saw there were squashed grapes on the floor. The trial judge held though that the grapes could not have been on the floor for more than 10 minutes as there were 4 other employees checking the floors for spillages etc every 7 to 20 minutes and that shoppers could not expect the supermarket to instantly detect and clean up any hazardous debris.
His Honour said –
“Coles is not bound to ensure the absolute safety of entrants to its stores … it must take reasonable care … Coles could not have been expected to ensure safety by, for example, having several staff in every aisle doing nothing but watching for dropped vegetable matter, or by allocating a staff member to ‘shadow’ every customer as they walked around the store.”
The case differs from what might be considered a benchmark decision in Strong v Woolworths  HCA 5, where the Court held that it had been an error for the Court of Appeal to find that it could not be concluded that a dropped hot potato chip had been on the ground long enough for it to be detected and removed had there been a reasonable cleaning system in operation.
The evidence did not permit a finding of when, in the interval between 8.00am and 12.30pm, the chip had been dropped and in light of this, the probability was that it had been on the ground for more than 20 minutes prior to the Strong’s fall. On the balance of probabilities, therefore, she would not have fallen but for Woolworths’ negligence in failing to implement a regular system of inspection and cleaning of its floors. She was awarded damages in excess of $500,000 for serious spinal injuries.
For occupiers of premises open to the public, these cases demonstrate the importance of regular inspections and cleaning of areas where there is a risk of slips, trips and falls. Such measures are easy to implement and relatively cheap when compared to the severity of any injury which might be sustained in such an incident. Be warned.
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