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Slipped and fell in a Shopping Centre? To what extent is the Shopping Centre responsible?

  • Case Study
  • 14 Jun 2023

In the case of Strong v Woolworths Limited [2012] HCA 5, the High Court of Australia delivered a significant judgment on March 7, 2012, in favour of Ms. Kathryn Strong in her claim for damages against Woolworths following a slip and fall accident. This case sheds light on the challenges faced by individuals seeking compensation from occupiers.

The incident occurred on September 24, 2004, when Ms. Strong, an amputee using crutches, was inspecting pot plants outside the entrance of a Big W store at the Centro Taree Shopping Centre, which was under the care and control of Woolworths. Her crutch came into contact with a greasy chip, causing her to slip and suffer a severe spinal injury.

Ms. Strong initiated legal proceedings against Woolworths and the shopping centre’s occupier, CPT Manager Limited, in the District Court of New South Wales. She obtained a judgment against Woolworths, holding them responsible for not adequately cleaning and inspecting the area where the chip fell. However, her claim against CPT Manager Limited was unsuccessful. Subsequently, Woolworths appealed the decision to the New South Wales Court of Appeal.

The central issue before the Court of Appeal was whether Ms. Strong could prove that Woolworths' negligence caused her spinal injury. The Court referred to section 5D of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW), which states that negligence is a necessary element for the occurrence of harm, and the liability of the negligent party extends to the harm caused.

The Court of Appeal determined that Ms. Strong had not proven that Woolworths' negligence directly caused her fall. It concluded that reasonable care required regular inspections at 15-minute intervals throughout the day. Since it was likely that the greasy chip had been on the floor for only a short period, the Court could not establish that more frequent cleaning would have prevented the incident.

Ms. Strong then appealed to the High Court of Australia, which ruled in her favour by a majority of 4 to 1. The majority found that the Court of Appeal erred in concluding that the chip could not have been on the ground long enough to be identified and removed by a reasonable cleaning system implemented by Woolworths.

The High Court determined that the chip had been dropped between 8:00 am and 12:30 pm, and there was a clear failure by Woolworths to maintain a reasonable cleaning system, which ultimately caused Ms. Strong's fall.

This decision underscores the significance of regular cleaning and inspections in shopping centres. The Court emphasized that reasonable care necessitates the inspection and removal of slipping hazards at intervals no longer than 20 minutes.

This case is important because it highlights that to win a case like this you need to be able to prove negligence (fault) on the part of the supermarket. Most people believe that if they slip and fall in a supermarket that is enough on its own to guarantee success. Unfortunately, it isn’t. In addition, you need to be able to prove that the store was negligent. To do this usually involves proving how long the substance you slipped on hand been on the floor. For obvious reasons most people would have no idea because the first they knew about the spill was after they fell.

Sometimes CCTV can be used to prove how long the spill had been there.

Despite this difficulty, we find that in most cases we can still negotiate settlements with the store for our clients.

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