A recent case we successfully defended has provided
reinforcement and guidance to employers regarding what needs to be
proven by a plaintiff if they are to succeed in slip/fall cases.
The outcome demonstrated that having a robust system in place,
together with evidence of adequate enforcement of the system, can
be paramount to effectively defend against liability claims.
While this case involved an employer-employee relationship, the
issues considered by the court are also applicable for slip/fall
claims to matters in the public liability sphere.
The plaintiff, a casual weekend sales assistant, alleged that
she suffered a personal injury during a fall at her employer's
premises when she stepped on "an object or something".
Although she had various hypotheses that it was gravel, a stone or
a pebble, the plaintiff was never able to identify what caused her
She alleged that the state of the concrete floor area where she
had fallen was dangerous and unsafe as a result of the
employer's failure to have in place a proper cleaning system.
In her evidence, the plaintiff alleged that the concrete pad was
covered in rubble and gravel and that she had made numerous
complaints to co-workers and her manager about the state of the
The employer had in place a system for clearing the area,
including a junior employee hired on the weekends for the primary
purpose of sweeping the area where the plaintiff fell. The employer
had also instructed all employees to be vigilant about cleaning and
to remove any objects on the floor during the course of their
normal employment duties.
At trial, the plaintiff pleaded that the incident could have
been prevented if the employer had used a blower vac to clean the
area, instead of sweeping the area with a broom. Employees gave
counter evidence stating that a blower vac was inappropriate and
that using a broom was the most effective method of cleaning the
The plaintiff bore the onus of proof that the employer's
cleaning system was less than what a reasonable employer would have
provided when considering the risk of the plaintiff suffering an
injury. In this circumstance, the plaintiff argued that the
defendant provided a deficient cleaning system but did not argue
that the junior, who was responsible for sweeping the area, had
been negligent in missing a piece of debris in the area where she
The presiding judge noted that whilst an employer has a duty to
take reasonable care for the safety of its employees, an employer
need not safeguard an employee from all perils.
He held that a reasonable employer in the defendant's
position should have foreseen that pebbles and debris on a concrete
pad would involve a risk of injury to employees traversing the
concrete area. However in terms of what a reasonable employer would
do by way of a response to that risk, the judge noted that this
involved considering the magnitude of the risk and the degree of
the probability of the plaintiff being injured by such debris or
rubble, and the expense, difficulty or inconvenience of removing
such rubble and debris.
The judge accepted that around 1-2 hours prior to her fall, the
area where the plaintiff suffered her injury had been swept by the
junior employee. He accepted evidence from the defendant witnesses
that the area was clean at the time of the fall. It was also
accepted that the cleaning system in place relied on inspections by
the weekend manager and the overarching manager, both of whom had
given evidence that the area was clean before the incident.
The judge therefore held that he was not satisfied that the
defendant employer had breached its duty of care by failing to
provide an adequate cleaning system. He was also not satisfied that
the plaintiff's fall was caused by a failure to take reasonable
care to provide a safe place of work or an adequate cleaning
The plaintiff failed to establish that her injuries were caused
by breach of duty.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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Contractors and principals should ensure they have appropriate insurance coverage instead of relying on indemnity clauses.
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