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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