A recent New South Wales Court of Appeal matter has highlighted the difficulties many plaintiffs face after suffering injuries. The duty owed by shopping centre operators as well as retailer’s to prevent slips and falls is a high one. However, this case highlights that without video cameras or reliable testimonies from the Plaintiff, a detailed incident report from the Defendant provides a strong defence.
The plaintiff was a 40-year-old disability support pensioner. She slipped and fell outside the women’s toilets at the Neeta City Shopping Centre and fractured her patella. Within a minute or two of the accident, the cleaner on duty in the area contacted his immediate supervisor, who attended the scene.
The cleaner took a thorough incident report due to their being no video camera footage of the incident. The cleaners did not detect any water or other spillage on the ground where the plaintiff slipped.
The Shopping Centre delegated cleaning to a contract cleaner, which it required to inspect bathroom areas at least every 20 minutes. At trial, the plaintiff accepted this was a reasonable system and that the area had in fact been inspected 12 minutes beforehand. Further, the plaintiff failed to raise any water spillage during her oral evidence. These facts were looked on in favour of the defendant by both the District Court and in the Court of Appeal.
The plaintiff’s claim proceeded on the basis that she slipped on water. Further, in reliance on an expert report from a Mr Burn, that the centre should have replaced the terrazzo tiles because they were slippery when wet.
The Court of Appeal found the judge was entitled to reject the claim that there was water on the floor. She was also entitled to reject the claim, as she did, on the basis that if there were water on the floor, it was not a result of a breach of duty on the part of the Defendant.
The Judges also agreed with the expert testimony of the defendants which argued that the terrazzo tiles, despite their slipperiness, were within the regulatory standards as long as they were inspected every 20 minutes.