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Recent Court of Appeal decisions highlight the need for property occupiers to be on guard against the risks of slipping.
The Queensland Court of Appeal handed down two judgments on 28 October 2016 which are useful reminders of the need for property occupiers to be vigilant against the risks of slips. One was in a commercial situation, the other in a residential situation.
In both cases, expert evidence given by the same engineer was relied on in finding for the injured party.
Woolworths Limited v Grimshaw  QCA 274 was an appeal against a District Court finding against Woolworths where a checkout operator slipped on a grape adjacent to the grape display. Woolworths was only successful in having the quantum of the award reduced to $437,037.26. Woolworths’ underlying failure appears to have been the absence of mats in an area where the risk of slipping was reasonably foreseeable and known to Woolworths. In the 2009 financial year Woolworths had 1,463 incidents in stores where employees or customers slipped on fallen grapes; about 10 per cent of all customer injuries were specifically grape-related. Woolworths even had a policy of placing mats in front of displays to prevent people from slipping on grapes in store if customers do drop grapes whilst selecting their fruit.
Silwood v Chandler  QCA 273 was an unsuccessful appeal by a home owner against a finding of the Chief Justice in the Supreme Court that the home owner was liable in negligence for his former partner’s injury when she slipped on wet tiled unlit steps and injured her right arm as she fell through a glass door. The former partner had been expected to visit the house. The home owner had washed the wall next to the front door but did nothing to dry the area afterwards, nor warn his former partner that the stairs were wet, nor illuminate the area. The Court of Appeal determined that a reasonable response to that situation was to dry the steps, to warn the former partner of the risk, or at least to have illuminated the steps so the former partner would have some prospect of seeing that the steps were wet and therefore potentially slippery. Applying the general principles of the Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld) the Court of Appeal concluded that the risk of a person slipping on the wet steps and being injured was foreseeable and not insignificant and so a reasonable person would have taken the precautions given the probability of the harm of slipping, the seriousness of the harm that could result from slipping and how easy it would have been to obviate the risk of harm. The injured party was awarded $650,000.00.
The outcome of both cases is a reminder that the occupier of a property owes a duty to a lawful entrant to take reasonable care to prevent injury to that entrant, while being entitled to assume that the entrant would take reasonable care for his or her own safety.
Dan McManus | Special Counsel | +61 7 3238 0611 | firstname.lastname@example.org