In this article, the recent caselaw of Caymore Melissa Pete v Boxer Superstore (Pty) Ltd will be discussed. In this matter, Mrs Pete slipped over cake flour at her local Boxer Supermarket and sustained serious injuriess as the store failed to clean up the flour on the floor in time so that it did not pose a danger to customers.
The judgement delivered in the matter between Caymore Melissa Pete vs Boxer Superstore (Pty) Ltd on 5 May 2022 and was rather interesting from a legal perspective. In this matter Mrs. Pete, the Plaintiff, slipped and fell over spilled cake flour in her local supermarket during September 2020. Mrs. Pete was unable to see the flour to avoid as the flour and floor of the supermarket were both white in colour, and in turn, the store employees also did not notice the flour in order to take preventative action and clean the floor.
The incident occurred on 3 September 2020 when Mrs. Pete attended her local supermarket, where she has been a regular shopper, to stock up on some groceries for her grandmother. Whilst Mrs. Pete was paying for her groceries she was informed by the cashier that she qualified for free hot dog buns as she had purchased a packet of vienna (hot dog) sausages. On Mrs. Pete's way to the bakery, she slipped and fell on cake flour which was being unpacked by one of the staff members of the supermarket. As a result of the fall, Mrs. Pete had sustained serious bodily injuries. Mrs. Pete issued summons against the Boxer Supermarket, Cleary Park Mall, where the incident occurred for the damages she had suffered, alleging that the said supermarket had failed to clean up the cake flour spillage on the floor and to ensure that the aisles were cleaned and free of hazards that posed a risk to shoppers.
The supermarket denied responsibility and told the court that Mrs. Pete simply did not look where she was walking. The supermarket in their defence said that there had not been a duty for its employees to inspect every corner of the store and as they did not see any hazards, they therefore did not clean the floor. In fact, the supermarket denied the allegation by Mrs. Pete that there was cake flour at all, despite one of the staff members unpacking the cake flour at the very moment the incident occurred. The case pleaded by Mrs. Pete centres around the supermarket's legal duty to members of the public, to ensure that the store is safe and free of hazards that could pose a risk to their customers. Mrs. Pete argued that the store was negligent in that they had failed to clean the flour spillage on the floor and ensure that the aisle was clean and free of hazards. In response, the supermarket said that that the hazard had not been obvious, and that Mrs. Pete fell due to her own (and sole) negligence. In Probst v Pick n' Pay it was noted that “the store does have a duty to the persons entering during trading hours and to ensure that reasonable steps were taken to ensure that the floor was safe for customers but that this is not so onerous as to require that every spillage must be discovered and cleaned up as soon as it occurs”
The court found that on the probabilities, the spillage could have occurred when the employee was packing the flour on the shelf and failed to clean it up. Customers focus mainly on the shelves and items they wish to purchase, and it was not an onerous task for the employees to clean the floor. The store was very busy due to it being the social grants payment period and not cleaning up the floors therefore posed a high risk to customers. In the circumstances of the matter, the supermarket was found fully liable with no scope of apportionment, and therefore liable to Ms. Pete for damages. It was ordered to pay her legal costs.
Although Mrs. Pete won one part of her claim against the supermarket (the merits), she still has to prove the quantum of her claim (the amount she is claiming for her bodily injuries). In order to prove her claim for compensation, several experts need to be appointed in order to assist the Court in making an order by testifying about the injuries she sustained due to the fall. It is important to take note that a Plaintiff may not be enriched due to injuries sustained because of the negligence of another party and may only be compensated for his / her loss, and for this reason the Court requires the assistance of experts. The legal route to claim for personal injuries might be long and frustrating, however, should the facts be in your favour, it could be worth it in the end.
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