A few years ago, a sunshine coast woman has made a claim against Woolworths for $320,000, after claiming she slipped over on a grape. Interestingly, Woolworths counter-stated that the incident did not occur at all, as it was not reported on the day.An article in the Daily Mercury presented this very story, and discussed the numerous responsibilities of stores to their shoppers. The article is a reminder for shop owners and other commercial occupiers about the need for strict cleaning and maintenance systems to be implemented at these sites.
The claim discussed in this article was brought under the Personal Injuries Proceedings Act 2002 (Qld). This Act allows claimants who injure themselves in Queensland to seek compensation for their injuries, where the injury was caused due to the negligence of another.
When seeking damages for such an action for personal injuries, it is necessary to demonstrate certain fundamental threshold requirements. For example:
- That the occupier owed a duty of care to create and maintain a safe environment for their patrons;
- The occupier was negligent, by failing to adhere to that duty of care;
- As a result of the negligence, another person was injured;
- As a result of that injury, the person has (or will in the future) suffer a loss (ie. Incurred out of pocket expenses, lost income from work, etc)
In the present case, the woman seeking relief, is alleging that she sustained injuries that justify compensation, because the store was not kept in a safe condition, hence, causing her to fall and sustain injury.
There is an established duty of care for occupiers towards those people who will be in a position to be affected by their systems; in this case, the hundreds or thousands of customers who would be present within a Woolworths store on a day to day basis.
To defend the claim for damages against them, Woolworths will need to show that they did have adequate systems in place. If they cannot, then they will have breached their duty, and thusly, be liable for any consequent loss to the Claimant.
In this matter, the Claimant will clearly be alleging that the persons responsible for the store’s upkeep were negligent in their duty to effectively monitor the area where she fell, so as to identify and remove any hazards. There have been a few recent cases regarding how strict such procedures need to be.
Strong v Woolworths In a recent High Court case Strong v Woolworths Ltd the claimant slipped on a chip at the entrance of a Big W store. In this case, the court accepted that to comply with an occupiers duty of care, inspection and removal of slipping hazards must occur no less than every 20 minutes.
Fitzsimmons v Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd In Fitzsimmons v Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd Coles was found liable for a woman slipping on a wet floor, despite there being three ‘wet floor’ signs. In this case, a Coles employee had not sufficiently mopped a spillage. Three warning signs were placed around the spill, and an employee was sent to bring back apparatus to clean the spill properly. Whilst the employee was obtaining same, staff did not monitor the area surrounding the spill.
In this case, the Court found that it was reasonable for supermarkets to expect shoppers to be distracted, and strict measures, such as having staff to direct customers away from hazards, fell into their duty of care.These cases highlight the strict onus owed by occupiers to have procedures place to ensure the area under their control is a safe environment. In the present circumstances, the Claimant will simply have to show that it was reasonable for Woolworths to have removed the grape and prevent the slipping hazard. If she can show this, she will be entitled to compensation for the loss she suffered as a result of her injuries.
Given the high standard courts require for occupiers in this regard, it is a reminder to us all that legislation exists to provide recourse for financial loss for such accidents, and that the courts are serious in protecting those whose safety has been compromised as a result of an occupier’s negligence.
1. Strong v Woolworths Ltd  HCA 5 2. Fitzsimmons v Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd  NSWCA 273