SLIP, TRIP AND FALLS IN SUPERMARKETS
The law of occupier’s liability in NSW as it relates to slip and fall claims in supermarkets was reviewed by the High Court of Australia in Strong v Woolworths Limited (2012) HCA 5.
The High Court found that a supermarket such as Woolworths as the occupier of the premises is required to carry out regular inspection and removal of slipping hazards at intervals no greater than 20 minutes.
The Plaintiff must demonstrate how long the substance was on the floor prior to the fall however this time period can be inferred by the circumstances surrounding the claim.
In this particular case, the Plaintiff slipped on a hot chip at around 12.30pm. The Plaintiff could not prove how long the chip was on the floor. The supermarket could only say that they last inspected the floor at 8.00am that morning. The court inferred that on the balance of probabilities the chip had been on the floor for more than the reasonable 20 minutes and as a result the plaintiff was successful in her claim.
It is crucial therefore in any claim to be able to demonstrate how long the cause of the slip was on the floor. If the supermarket carries out regular inspection and removal of any hazards and they can demonstrate that they did so within a 20 minute period then in most cases, the Plaintiff will not be successful.
In any supermarket claim a plaintiff’s lawyer should seek preliminary discovery before commencing proceedings to obtain all documents and evidence in relation to the defendant’s system of inspection and cleaning. If the defendant is unable to provide evidence that they had a system in place to inspect the floor every 20 minutes, then it is likely that the plaintiff will be successful.
Other examples of slip and falls in supermarkets are where there is a large puddle of water leaking from say a refrigeration system. The plaintiff will not be able to call direct evidence as to how long the water had been on the floor however can prove this in two ways.
The first would be to obtain the supermarkets records of inspection and cleaning. If the supermarket is unable to provide evidence that they at least inspected the floor every 20 minutes then it can be inferred that the water was on the floor for longer than 20 minutes. The second is the size of the pool of water which may also indicate that the water had been on the floor for more than 20 minutes.
It is crucial in a supermarket slip and fall claim to obtain evidence of the defendant’s system of inspection and cleaning. The court applied a period of 20 minutes to a supermarket such as Woolworths however in a high traffic area such as a food court, a reasonable system of inspection and cleaning may be 10 minutes. Likewise if the area where the fall occurred is less busy, a longer period will apply.
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