Legal

Coles ordered to pay customer $280,000 in compensation after she slipped and injured her ankle while shopping

Broede Carmody /

A 50-year-old woman has won more than $280,000 in compensation after she fell over at a Coles supermarket and seriously injured her left ankle.

According to the judgment handed down by the District Court of New South Wales, Margaret Hill was shopping at a Coles store in Sydney’s western suburbs at around 7am one morning in 2013 when she slipped near a refrigerated display cabinet and injured her ankle.

Hill took the matter to court and gave evidence she slipped on a strip of water about the size of a sheet of A4 paper.

“I just remember being flung off my feet and seeing my keys and wallet go flying across the room,” Hill told the court.

Coles denied any allegations of negligence, arguing Hill’s injuries were a result of her failing to avoid an obvious hazard.

A Coles employee also gave evidence that she did not “see anything” on the ground shortly after Hill fell over.

As a result of the injury, Hill said she was unable to do household chores efficiently. She said her ankle injury worsened over time and she will consider surgery if it continues to deteriorate.

The court heard such surgery would cost thousands of dollars and also require post-operative care through physiotherapy and medication.

Judge Phillip Mahony found Coles had a duty of care to ensure the business premises were safe and because a mat that should have been covering the area of floor where Hill fell was not returned to its position after the area was cleaned, the duty of care was breached.

As a result, Mahony ordered Coles to pay Hill just over $284,000 in damages, plus costs.

Nick Stone, partner at Stone Group Lawyers, told SmartCompany businesses have to make sure they adhere to the relevant laws as well as internal policies when it comes to customer safety.

“From an employer’s perspective, they do owe a duty of care to ensure the safety of customers and everybody who’s in their stores, including staff as well,” Stone says.

“They also owe a duty of care to customers. Workplaces like Coles can be hazardous environments, and there is quite often the need to ensure there are lots of quality and safety measures put in place to ensure the health and safety of patrons coming into the store is looked after.”

Alan McDonald, managing director at law firm McDonald Murholme, told SmartCompany Hill had to fight hard for her compensation because Coles alleged she should have avoided the small puddle of water.

“Coles ran that argument right to the hearing,” McDonald says.

“Often, injured workers and customers confront heavy-handed insurers who hope that they would give in when faced with a hard contest.”

SmartCompany contacted Coles and Hill’s lawyers for comment but did not receive a response prior to publication.

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Broede Carmody

Broede Carmody is a former senior reporter at SmartCompany. Previously, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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  • Ron

    I hope Coles appeals this ridiculous decision you must learn to watch where you walk or in time a snake will bite you and its hard to sue a snake but I imagine a lawyer would find a way as there closely related

    • ojm

      If the snake is on a council footpath or park, I am sure you could sue the council!

      • Ron

        And the lawyer acting for the snake could sue you for assault for treading on the poor snake as You should have been looking where you walk

      • BJG

        Unfortunately no. Councils seem to be very well protected. My sister suffered a broken foot when she accidentally tripped on a tree grate that was loose on a footpath. The council did not want to know get and their lawyers were nothing less than vicious. We took legal advice and the chances of getting anything from the council were judged as zero because of legal protections that they enjoy.
        My sister has had surgery twice and now walks with a limp and suffers constant pain.

  • helma Parkin

    If you see a puddle of water near the freezers you don’t walk through it you go round and report it to one of he workers….I note this woman said” I just remember being flung off my feet and seeing my keys and wallet go flying across the room” I wonder where she really thought she was?????things go flying across a room??????

  • MP

    So many people want to just make a quick buck. Growing up, you fall over, you get up. You take responsibility for yourself. I would wonder if you went into her house and fell, whether she would like if you said you were going to sue her because of some water the kids spilt on the floor? Unless it is serious (eg broken back, loss of limb), there should be no claim.