Kathryn Strong lost a leg some years ago and, as a result,
walked with crutches. That wasn't the end of her misfortune.
More recently she suffered a serious spinal injury when one of her
crutches landed on a greasy chip lying on the floor.
The floor was outside the entrance to a Woolworths store in a
shopping centre in New South Wales. Although not part of the store,
the area was used as a sidewalk sales area by Woolworths.
The area was close to the food court. The shopping centre opened
at 8.00 am and the accident occurred at 12.30 pm. On the relevant
day Woolworths had no system in place for the periodic inspection
and cleaning of the relevant area (whereas in the food court the
shopping centre owner had cleaners checking the floor every 15
Kathryn sued Woolworths and the shopping centre owner. Her claim
against the owner failed because the judge concluded that
Woolworths had sole care of the relevant area. However, the judge
ordered Woolworths to pay about $600,000 to Kathryn.
Woolworths appealed successfully to the NSW Court of Appeal.
Kathryn then took her case to the High Court. It is somewhat
surprising that the High Court allowed her to appeal because the
relevant law is settled and did not end up being changed by the
Woolworths argued that Kathryn had failed to produce evidence
which would allow a conclusion to be drawn about when the chip fell
on the floor. As a result she had failed to prove her case, because
the chip could have ended up on the floor only a short time before
The High Court disagreed. It said Kathryn only needed to prove
that, had a proper system been in place, it was likely that the
chip would have been detected and removed. In this case it was more
likely that the chip was dropped in the four hours between 8.00 and
12.10 pm than in the last 20 minutes before 12.30 pm. That remained
the case even though chips were more commonly purchased during
lunchtime and even though Woolworths had a "people
greeter" in the area until 12:00 pm (who might have seen the
chip had it been present before that time).
The Court held that 'reasonable care required inspection
and removal of slipping hazards at intervals not greater than 20
minutes in the sidewalk sales area' and Kathryn won.
Strong v Woolworths Limited  HCA
The High Court has confirmed that occupiers of busy retail areas
will not be able to defend slip-and-fall claims unless they have a
documented, and implemented, system of regular inspection and
cleaning. Where hazards such as dropped food are likely to occur,
the entire floor should be inspected at brief intervals.
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This was an interlocutory decision about the appointment of a tutor for the child appellant, to carry on his proceedings.
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