Written by Sid Sidhu, NRA Legal
A Sydney woman, who was awarded $151,000 in compensation after slipping on a grape in her local Woolworths, has lost her case on appeal and been ordered to pay the supermarket’s legal costs.
At first instance, Justice Maiden SC of the District Court of NSW, found that the grape’s presence on the floor was more likely the result of activities of staff prior to the store opening. It was held that whilst the system of inspection could not be improved and training of staff was more than adequate, there was no evidence to suggest that the pre-opening inspection had been carried out appropriately.
Furthermore, his Honour found that if someone had been on duty in the produce section, they would have identified the risk, being the grape that constituted a slip hazard and was the cause of the applicant’s fall.
Woolworths brought an appeal on six grounds. In particular, Woolworths argued that his Honour erred in finding that the grape was on the floor before the store opened and that Woolworths failed to take reasonable precautions.
“Woolworths contends that finding that there is a single grape on the floor in the produce section of a supermarket is insufficient to establish want of reasonable care and thus breach of duty,” the appeal judges wrote.
In a unanimous judgment, the Court of Appeal found there was no evidence to suggest that the grape had been dislodged in the half hour preceding the incident. This argument, as put forth by Ms McQuillian, was “really no more than speculation”.
Additionally, a finding of negligence could not stand as there was an established system of cleaning in place and no evidence of departure from that system. Visual inspection could have been impeded by physical objects such as trolleys and crates, and the fact that Woolworths staff did not observe a single grape was not a casual act of negligence.
This case serves as a strong reminder of the duty of care expected from occupiers and operators. In New South Wales, section 5B(1)(c) of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW) requires reasonableness as opposed to perfection and employers may satisfy these requirements by establishing an adequate system of cleaning and inspection.
For more information on this case or assistance with understanding your duties, contact NRA today on 1800 RETAIL (1800 738 245).