Newcastle discount store ordered to pay substantial damages to elderly customer who tripped over lower shelf left on the floor

PUBLISHED 30 Jul 2018

Our client was attending a large discount store at Newcastle for the purposes of buying hooks for hanging pot plants. Our client is an elderly lady. As she attempted to walk to the end of the aisle and to walk around it she tripped over a lower shelf which was protruding at the end of the aisle. She lost her balance and fell heavily to the ground. She suffered a fracture of her right shoulder. The shelf which our client tripped over was a similar colour to the floor beneath it.

The accident was reported to management and they came to the client’s assistance. She was taken to John Hunter Hospital for treatment.

A letter of demand was forwarded to the discount chain. They were advised that there was a risk of harm which was foreseeable and for which they failed to take reasonable care to prevent that risk of harm from materialising. That risk was of pedestrians being injured as a result of tripping on low lying individual shelves placed at the end of the aisle with no shelving above it. It was clear on our part that they were negligent in that they exposed our client to a risk of injury which could have been avoided by reasonable care.

Liability was denied by the discount chain and their insurer. We obtained a liability expert’s report. The expert provided a report which advised that the discount chain did not carry out a thorough risk assessment and they had not complied with the work, health and safety regulation requirements. He also advised that the risk could have been simply eliminated by a number of measure including just simply removing and eliminating the potential hazard by not leaving low lying shelves in the path of pedestrians for them to trip over. Appropriate preventative measures that could and should have been taken were not undertaken and therefore resulted in our client’s accident and subsequent injury.

Our client suffered a fractured right shoulder and she developed a frozen right shoulder in the longer term. She also developed psychological and emotional distress and shock as a result of the trauma. It significantly affected her loss of enjoyment of life and daily activities at an elderly age including sleeping and using her right arm and right shoulder. She needed to rely on others for assistance around the home.

We were able to obtain medical reports from her treating doctors and specialists and medico legal assessments which confirmed the full extent of her injuries and disabilities arising from the accident and that she was suffering from a permanent loss of use of her right arm and shoulder as a result of the accident. Her activities of daily living were severely compromised. We claimed damages for permanent impairment and pain and suffering, her past and future treatment expenses and domestic care and assistance that she has required since the accident plus legal costs.

We launched legal proceedings against the Newcastle discount chain in negligence for our client’s injuries, losses and damages. They filed a defence denying liability and that our client was responsible for the accident. Our liability expert report addressed that issue and made it quite clear that the lower shelf should not have been placed there and that the discount chain had not taken adequate precautions to prevent any risk of harm happening to its customers and our client in the circumstances. We were extremely confident in succeeding on the liability issues in the matter.

The insurer for the discount chain also arranged for our client to be independently examined and assessed. The doctor’s reports supported our client’s position in terms of her injuries and ongoing incapacity although they tried to state that they were aged related and pre-existing conditions. This was refuted by our client and her doctors and specialists.

Our client’s matter was listed for hearing and the contest was going to be in relation to the liability and medical experts. The court ordered for the parties to participate in an informal settlement conference to discuss the liability and medical issues. The parties attended for a mediation hearing over a one day period we were able to canvas the issues and resolve the totality settlement of the claim. Our client was very pleased with the outcome of the matter.


If you were a lawful entrant and customer at a shopping centre and you suffer an accident due to the negligence of the shop or the discount chain, you may be entitled to receive an award in damages in compensation as a result of the injuries that you suffer from the accident. You will need to establish negligence against them in causing the accident.

In this case, our client was a lawful entrant at the Newcastle discount chain shopping when she tripped over a shelf which was left on the ground which was a trip hazard for customers as they were turning the corner from one aisle to another. The shelf should not have been left on the floor in the manner it was left to be a trip hazard to customers. Even though the shop denied liability and negligence, they were ordered to pay our client a substantial award in damages in compensation for her injuries, losses and damages.

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