Dale Erwin-Jones v Latitude Underwriting Pty Ltd [2016] NSWDC 46

 

Facts

Ms Erwin-Jones slipped on water and fell heavily on her way leaving a restaurant premise in August 2010. She sustained injuries to her right wrist and hand, right forearm, right shoulder and lower back.

 

It was a windy and wet evening at the time of the accident. The area where Ms Erwin-Jones slipped and fell was of dark coloured timber flooring. In the area, there was a bench for patrons to sit whilst waiting to collect their take-away food, a plastic lined bucket for patrons to leave their wet umbrellas and a mop.

 

Main issues & Arguments

Ms Erwin-Jones argued that the risk of a customer slipped on the water and fell whilst leaving the premise was foreseeable and therefore, it was the restaurant’s failure of providing of system of constant inspection and cleaning caused her slip and fell.

 

The restaurant argued that there was no evidence of how much water were on the floor, how long the water had been there and where Ms Erwin-Jones actually fell. Therefore, the restaurant argued that they would not be liable for Ms Erwin-Jones’ injuries. The restaurant also argued that Ms Erwin-Jones herself contributed to the injuries because she was intoxicated at the time of the accident. This allegation was based on the fact that Ms Erwin-Jones had a glass of wine before attending the restaurant and shared a bottle of wine with her colleague whilst dining at the restaurant.

 

Court’s Findings

The Court found that:

  • Since it was a wet and windy evening, the water on the floor was carried into the premises by patrons’ clothing and shoes when they entered the premise.
  • The amount of water was sufficient to cause Ms Erwin-Jones to slip and to soak through her clothing.
  • The restaurant clearly recognised the risk of patrons being injured due to the slippery floor caused by the water because they provided a bucket for wet umbrellas, a mop for staff to clean up any spillage or water.
  • The restaurant had also made a warning sign of slippery surface available however it was not being placed at the time of the accident.
  • The restaurant had a number of inexpensive options to take preventative measures however none of these was executed. For example, the restaurant could have placed absorbent matting in the area where umbrellas were carried until they were placed in the bucket, mopped the floor regularly and placed the warning sign of slippery surface.
  • Ms Erwin-Jones would not have been injured if the restaurant had taken abovementioned preventative measures.
  • Regarding the alleged fault on her side, Ms Erwin-Jones was found not intoxicated. Even if Ms Erwin-Jones was not looking at the floor, she was not required by law to do so. It was reasonable for Ms Erwin-Jones to look ahead on her way exiting the premise.

 

Outcome

In total, the Court awarded Ms Erwin-Jones over $344,000.

 

Lessons

Restaurant operators must exercise extra caution on rainy days to ensure that the floor is not slippery. In particular, precaution measurements such as warning signs, water absorbent mat, readily available mops and more frequent inspection and cleaning are reasonably expected. In addition, restaurant operators should also consider adjusting lighting and opting for more slip resistant flooring material to minimise the risk.