"Slip and fall" accidents occur in all manner of private, commercial and public places. Some result in minor bumps and bruises but others result in serious sustain injury. Depending on the circumstances, the injured person may be entitled to compensation from the person responsible for the location of the fall. The law commonly refers to this person (who may be an individual, corporation, or the State) as an 'occupier'. However, the injured party needs to establish that the fall was caused by some negligence on the part of the occupier. This area of compensation law is literally a minefield for the unwary.
Common places where slip and fall accidents occur are supermarkets and shopping centres. Customers frequently sue supermarkets. The sheer number of customers who enter stores make a larger number of falls (and resulting injuries) inevitable. For that reason, Supermarket chains are acutely aware of the risk of injury to customers and therefore generally have procedures and policies in place to ensure staff members inspect the floors for hazards and clean the floors at regular intervals. The intention is to minimise the risk of injury to customers and in so doing minimise the liability of stores to pay compensation to the injured.
It is important to understand that the obligation on the part of a supermarket or other occupier to its customers is to take 'reasonable' care. The mere fact that a customer is injured while in a supermarket is not enough to trigger a legal liability to pay the injured customer compensation. Courts determine cases on their facts, but it is generally accepted that a supermarket store will fulfil that standard (and therefore escape liability for any particular slip and fall) if it maintains a policy of regular inspection and cleaning, and that policy is adhered to by supermarket employees.
A good example of a slip and fall injury is where a customer slips and falls on some liquid laundry detergent that has been spilt from a bottle knocked onto the floor of an aisle by another customer. The supermarket would rely on its cleaning policy to deny negligence. Assume the policy requires a staff member to perform an inspection of the relevant aisle every half hour, and a signed cleaning log shows the aisle was inspected at 10:30am, and the aisle was found to be clean, but a customer then slips and falls on spilt detergent at 10:35am, a fact proven by CCTV footage. In those circumstances, the supermarket is unlikely to be found to be negligent, as by maintaining and adhering to a policy it has taken reasonable care.
An injured customer would have to prove that the cleaning policy was unreasonable in the circumstances or the liquid had been missed on inspection in order to prove negligence. Assume for a moment that the staff member responsible for inspecting the aisle had taken a morning tea break at 10:30am rather than inspecting the aisle, thereby breaching the supermarket's cleaning policy. This would mean that the last inspection occurred at 10am (instead of 10:30am). If the customer could prove the spill occurred at 10:35 am (and evidence of when the spill actually occurred would be vital in these circumstances) and the accident occurred very shortly after that, then the supermarket would probably be found to be negligent.
Similarly, if the relevant staff member did not clean up the spilt detergent properly, or failed to observe it (assuming it to be a large spill), the supermarket would likely be found to be negligent.
If you have been injured in a slip and fall and are thinking about making a claim for compensation, it is important that you seek advice from an experienced lawyer. The wrong advice could see you having to pay the supermarket's legal costs, adding insult to injury.
Ben specialises in personal injury law, specifically workers compensation, work injury damages, occupiers and public liability, motor vehicle accidents and total and permanent disability insurance. If you require assistance, we encourage you to call the Newcastle office on 4925 2996 or visit www.turnerfreeman.com.au