Loose grapes vs Pre-packaged grapes
A small cost to a big claim
Supermarkets are very busy shops so it is unsurprising that they also see a high volume of Slip and Trip accidents simply by the nature of how much traffic they attract. Slipping over in a puddle, spilt liquid or dropped fruit may be simply inconvenient to some while other people suffer a fracture or torn ligament. If you slip over it is always worth reporting the slip to staff so they it can be recorded and cleaned up as soon as possible even if you are not injured.
If you are injured however, it is more important then ever to get a good lawyer on your side after a recent decision in ACT has given supermarkets just a bit more reason to deny and fight your claim for medical costs, lost wages and pain & suffering.
The grape that sent a case to Court
In the recent case of Buljat v Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd  ACTSC 47 (18 March 2022) a customer slipped on a grape at Coles and sued Coles for compensation. Mrs Buljat was shopping when her foot slipped and she fell and suffered injuries to her shin. When she looked she saw a wet smear leading up to a squashed grape. The Court accepted that Mrs Buljat has slipped and fallen on the grape and so that was not an issue at trial. But does slipping on a grape automatically make Coles liable?
Coles agreed that it had a duty to customers to take for their safety while in the store. Coles also conceded that customers are generally in the store and looking at the items for sale – they are not looking at the floor. Accordingly the risk of slipping on something that is on the floor “..is not insignificant”. Therefore the real issue was the ‘reasonable response to the risk’, that is, given the foreseeable risk of slipping, what could and should a store such as Coles do about that risk? Mrs Buljat argued that:
· Coles should sell the grapes in plastic bags. She argued that because it is well known that grapes often fall onto the floor, or customers or kids pick the fruit as they walk past, that Coles should bag the fruit to stop fruit dropping onto the floor; and
· Coles should have had a system of inspection and cleaning in place.
What was the outcome?
The Court did not accept the plastic packaging argument: the Court simply said that it was for Mrs Buljat to prove that a plastic bag would have prevented grapes from falling onto the floor. The Court was concerned for example that even if grapes were bagged customers could still open the bags and pick the fruit. And, there was some debate about the health risks of keeping grapes in bags. Therefore Mrs Baljat failed to convince the Court that this was something that Coles should be doing.
As to the system of cleaning, the system that Coles had in place was a ‘clean as you go’ system: staff were trained to keep a lookout for spills and dropped items and would deal with those problems as they happened throughout the day. There was no system that involved a cleaner, such as a cleaner routinely doing a round of the store with a trolley and cleaning equipment. Mrs Buljat argued that a ‘clean as you go’ system was not acceptable and raised the potential risk of staff not detecting fallen fruit. Again the Court was not persuaded. The Court held that there was no evidence as to why a ‘clean as you go’ system was a problem, and there was no basis for saying that an act of casual negligence in not seeing a grape amounted to staff not keeping a proper lookout.
Mrs Buljat lost her case. The lesson for slip and trip compensation claims is that you cannot simply argue that a store such as Coles must have a system of periodic inspection and cleaning in place. Alternative systems, such as ‘clean as you go’, might be just as acceptable in the circumstances.
What does this mean for your claim?
If you are injured in a slip at a supermarket and want to claim compensation you will need to prove that the system in place at the store was not an adequate response to the risk of slipping. To do that you will likely need expert opinion. If you have been injured at a shopping centre or supermarket and are considering claiming compensation you should chat to Lian Hall Injury Law and get legal advice.