Woolworths Ltd v McQuillan [2017] NSWCA 202 - What does this decision mean for my slip and fall claim?

Published 31 Oct 2017

This case involves a slip and fall which occurred at a Woolworths store as a result of a single grape on the floor.

The incident occurred about 6 minutes after the store had opened.

The matter was heard in the District Court of Sydney. The Judge, Justice Maiden SC, found for the Plaintiff in that the Defendant (Woolworths) had failed to properly implement their system of cleaning and inspection just prior to and after the opening of the store because there had been no one specifically assigned to the produce section of the store at the time of the incident.

The Plaintiff was initially awarded $151,000 plus costs in compensation. Until Woolworths appealed.

Woolworths appealed the decision of Justice Maiden SC to the Court of Appeal. The appeal was raised on a number of grounds. Woolworths argued that there was a system of cleaning and inspection in place and albeit not perfect, it was in place, was adhered to and was adequate at the time of the incident (even if their employees did not identify the lone grape on the floor).

The Court of Appeal (heard by Justices Basten, Gleeson and Payne) upheld the appeal. The Court found that the Plaintiff had not proven that there had been a lapse of the system of cleaning and inspection that the Defendant submitted was in place and that a single grape on the floor was not clear evidence of any lapse.

What does this decision mean for my slip and fall claim?

  1. In order to establish negligence against an occupier as a result of a slip and fall, there must be evidence of a failure in their undertaking of a system of reasonable inspection and cleaning, not perfect inspection and cleaning. “a grape just close to the display table could be missed in the busy activity in the store before opening. That is not a finding of a casual act of negligence.” – para 80.
  2. The Plaintiff has the onus of proving that a reasonable system of cleaning and inspection was not in place at the time of the incident. It is not for the Defendant to prove that the system was in place.
  3. Just because staff have passed the area where a substance is left on the floor and they do not scan and identify the substance does not establish negligence in its self as the system of cleaning and inspection may still be reasonable as a whole. keeping a proper lookout in accordance with instructions to maintain vigilance for hazards on the floor, such as grapes, does not mean a perfect lookout. It can be accepted that a visual scan of the entire floor by staff as they go about their busy duties may be impeded by a number of matters, such as, physical objects, or the nature of the other duties being performed. That does not mean that staff have not kept a proper lookout.” – para 90.

If you have been injured as a result of a slip and fall, you should always seek advice from a lawyer about your rights to claim compensation.

Gerard Malouf & Partners are accredited specialists and we will fight hard against insurance companies who will argue that a reasonable system of cleaning and inspection was in place at the time of your fall.

Call 1800 004 878 to speak to one of our specialist lawyers.