Negligence against Woolworths set aside
Case note: Woolworths Limited –v- McQuillan  NSWCA202 (14 August 2017)
Miss McQuillan, the Plaintiff, was injured on 25 November 2012 when she slipped and fell on a grape in the produce section of Woolworths’ supermarket located at Leichhardt Marketplace. She was initially successful in recovering damages in the agreed sum of $151,000 plus costs in the District Court. Woolworths appealed from that decision.
Slip and fall accident
The accident occurred in the produce section of the store near a specials stand where the grapes were displayed for sale. Although the trial Judge had made findings as to when the grape probably ended up on the floor, it was held by the Court of Appeal that it was ultimately unclear when that had occurred. The Court of Appeal held that Woolworths had not been negligent in the circumstances. Evidence was lead by Woolworths that the store had been routinely cleaned the previous evening and that it maintained a system for the inspection of the store, including the floor, during trading hours to ensure that it was clean and did not pose a risk of injury to customers.
The Court of Appeal ultimately held that the Plaintiff had failed to establish a causal act of negligence on the part of Woolworths. It was not the case, for example, that Woolworths had failed to maintain a system to ensure that the floors of the store were clean and safe and, similarly, that there was any deficiency in that system.
The Court of Appeal held that although it may have been possible for Woolworths to identify and clear up the offending grape, it would have required its staff to keep constant attention on the floor which was unreasonable having regard to the fact that two staff members tasked with supervising the produce stall could reasonably be expected to take their attention away from that task to deal with other duties.
Woolworths was ultimately found not to be negligent and Miss McQuillan therefore will not receive compensation.
The decision represents a useful illustration that not every accident is the product of someone else’s negligence and careful attention needs to be given to the circumstances of each case.
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