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Slip and fall at Big W goes all the way to the High Court

In a recent decision the High Court of Australia has held Woolworths responsible for injuries sustained by Mrs Strong when she slipped on a greasy hot chip outside the Taree Big W Store.

The facts

Mrs Strong a right leg amputee, was walking with the aid of crutches towards the entrance of the store with her daughter when she moved to inspect the pot plants that were on display on either side of the entrance. It was lunchtime and a food court was adjacent to the store’s entrance. As Mrs Strong moved, the tip of her crutch came into contact with a hot chip causing her crutch to slip and Mrs Strong to fall.

The District Court’s decision

The District Court found the area where the incident occurred was not inspected in the 4½ hours between the time when the area was set up for the day’s trading and the time of Mrs Strong’s fall. If such a system had been in place, it was likely the chip would have been detected and removed before Mrs Strong made her way to the entrance of the store. Mrs Strong was successful at first instance in her claim for negligence.

On appeal

The Court of Appeal saw things differently. It decided that even if there had been a regular system of inspection and cleaning in place, there was no evidence to conclude that the chip had been on the ground long enough for it to have been detected and removed.

The High Court’s decision

The High Court disagreed, noting that although there was no evidence to permit a finding of how long the chip had been on the floor, on the balance of probabilities, the chip was deposited some time before Mrs Strong slipped. Accordingly, had Woolworths implemented a reasonable cleaning system at intervals of no more than 20 minutes in the area of the incident, the chip would have been removed preventing Mrs Strong’s injury.

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