Businesses are being reminded to ensure the safety of their shop floors after a Sydney woman was awarded more than $90,000 in damages after slipping on a grape while shopping at Coles.
In a decision handed down on Wednesday, the District Court of New South Wales awarded Sangeeta Guru more than $90,000 in damages for an accident that occurred in a Coles supermarket in October 2012.
The court heard Guru was shopping at a Coles supermarket in the Sydney suburb of Cambridge Gardens, when she slipped on an escapee grape and fell over, sustaining multiple injuries to her limbs and torso. She was helped up by employee Patricia Whittington, who admitted to her that she had not had a chance to clean the area where Guru slipped, having just come back from a break.
“I am always out on the floor and constantly checking the grape display as I know how often they are dropped by customers,” Whittington told the court.
Guru initially sought damages of more than $1 million for residual effects of ongoing disabilities caused by the accident, effects on her future earning capacity, and future loss of superannuation.
Judge Leonard Levy yesterday found in Guru’s favour and ordered Coles to pay Guru $90,130 in damages, finding the supermarket was liable for the the injury sustained by Guru. However, the court found no grounds to award damages on loss of superannuation, past economic loss, or domestic assistance.
Principal lawyer with McDonald Murholme Andrew Jewell told SmartCompany the court found Coles breached its obligation to provide a safe shopping environment for customers.
“Occupiers have an obligation to take reasonable care with regard to the inspection, maintenance and repair of their premises, which will include an obligation to customers,” Jewell says.
“Contributory negligence” not applicable
In its defence, Coles argued Guru was guilty of contributory negligence, as she allegedly did not “take adequate care for her safety” by not looking at her feet while she walked.
However, Judge Levy said while Coles’ claims of contributory negligence were “arguable”, the context of the accident meant that Guru is not to blame, according to the judgment.
“The plaintiff was looking around her for items to purchase. Her surroundings were a supermarket where goods were attractively displayed to induce customers to select particular items for purchase,” Levy said.
“Whilst it is arguable that a reasonable person in the position of the plaintiff would have kept a proper lookout and cast an eye over the floor area where she was intending to walk, that consideration must be tempered by allowing scope for momentary inattention whilst looking at the goods on display.”
Jewell agrees, saying Coles’ claim surrounding Guru’s alleged contributory negligence would be reasonable in the context of am accident occurring in a “more equal relationship”, such as between two road users.
While Jewell notes negligence cases involving shopping centres and supermarkets were previously commonplace, he says they are somewhat rare these days.
“As occupier’s liability is a well-settled principle and most businesses have public liability insurance, [these matters] are rare nowadays,” he says.
Ensure safety and minimise risk
For businesses wanting to ensure they are fulfilling their safety obligation to customers and staff, Jewell advises vigilance and regular inspection.
“All that a business can really do is regularly inspect its premises and implement processes that ensure safety and minimise risk,” Jewell says.
“This case demonstrates that negligence liability can arise from minor issues such as a grape rolling across the ground.”
SmartCompany contacted Coles but did not receive a response prior to publication.