Legal

Bar to pay $1 million to woman in personal injury case – how SMEs can avoid the same fate

Melinda Oliver /

A female customer blinded in one eye at a popular bar in Melbourne’s CBD has been awarded $1 million in compensation by a County Court jury.

The case highlights the need for businesses to be aware of the potential for personal injury claims, and to ensure they provide a safe environment for customers and staff.

Louise Herrod, 24, was dancing at The Carlton Hotel in Bourke Street, in September 2010, when a stick from an artificial pot-plant pierced one eye, leaving her blinded in that eye, Fairfax reported.

Nowicki Carbone lawyers acting on behalf of Herrod reportedly claimed the incident could have been avoided. They argued the floor was crowded and she was forced against the pot-plants where the incident occurred. The lawyers argued the sharp stick should have been removed by the venue’s owners.

The case between Herrod and Pandez Holdings, owner of The Carlton Hotel, was heard in Melbourne earlier this month in front of a civil jury of six, with the payout confirmed on Friday by County Court judge Philip Misso.

A spokesperson for Judge Misso confirmed the jury delivered its verdict answering three questions.

“Firstly, that there was negligence on the part of the defendant. Secondly, that the plaintiff should be awarded damages in the amount of $1,100,000. Thirdly, that there was contributory negligence amounting to 10% on the part of the plaintiff,” the spokesperson said.

A personal injury payout of $1 million could cause financial strife to a small or medium business, so it is wise to be aware of responsibilities when it comes to providing a safe environment.

Bars, restaurants, retail stores and other service areas are particularly susceptible to this issue, as there are often lots of people moving in and out of the premises.

Ryan Carlisle Thomas Lawyers associate Karen Hartley told SmartCompany this morning that while not involved or aware of the intricacies of this case, she believes the compensation awarded was “fair and reasonable”.

She says personal injury cases highlight that business owners are responsible to ensure their customers and clients “are not exposed to unreasonable risk of injury”.

“In this case, it was a crowded dance floor, which could pose a high level of risk,” she explains.

Hartley says it is important to remember that the definition of personal injury is not only physical, but relates to the emotional trauma a person can suffer as a result. The cause and nature of physical injury could have “psychological flow on effects”, she says, that “deserve compensation”.

Hartley confirms that the key for businesses is to have solid checks and procedures in place for safety, ensuring that the premises is “fit for purpose”.

Nowicki Carbone lawyers declined to comment on the verdict at this stage, and a spokesperson for The Carlton Hotel also said the business would not comment on the case.

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