Margaret Hill v Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Limited (ACN 004 189 708)  NSWDC 5
In an early morning of 2003, Ms Hill slipped and fell at a Coles supermarket shortly after the shop opened for business. Ms Hill suffered serious injury to her left ankle which required surgery intervention and ongoing impairment to most physical activities.
Coles engaged contractors to clean the store just before opening. Coles had a policy that the black mats are to be placed in front of displays or products such as lettuce, cherries and grapes and loose.
Coles’ staff were expected to put the mats back down after the cleaners picked them up to clean the floor.
The area where Ms Hill fell was adjacent to a refrigerated fruit and vegetable display cabinet and there was water spillage. However, there was no mat on the floor nor a warning signage.
Main issues & Arguments
The main issue before the Court was whether it was Coles’ failure of taking precautions to prevent Ms Hill from slipping and falling that caused Ms Hill’s injuries and loss.
Ms Hill argued that Coles should have taken precautions by placing a mat on the floor, warning her the presence of the water on the floor, installing non-slip matting on the floor, inspecting the floor adequately and dry-mopping the area after restocking the fruit and vegetables.
Therefore, Ms Hill submitted, it was Coles’ failure of doing so caused her loss as a result of the fall and injuries.
Coles argued Ms Hill suffered the injury because of her own negligence in failing to keep a proper lookout and avoid an obvious hazard.
The Court found that:
- It was Coles’ responsibility to ensure that the premises were safe to enter by placing a mat in front of the refrigerated unit.
- There was a risk of harm that a member of the public would slip and fall on water emanating from the refrigerated unit onto the supermarket floor and suffer serious injury.
- The Coles staff should have replaced the mat after before opening the store after it was removed by the cleaners.
- It was Coles’ failure of ensuring the mat was placed in the designated area that caused Ms Hill’s injuries and losses.
In total, the Court awarded Ms Hill over $292,000.
This case rings a bell for all commercial premise occupiers that merely having a ad hoc system of inspection or cleaning is not enough. No matter how comprehensive or perfect the system is designed, the system must be administered, implemented and be functioning.