14 August, 2012
Latimer v Co-operative Group - 8 August 2012
DDJ Jolley (Salisbury County Court)
Forbes recently successfully defended the Co-op in a claim for personal injury following an alleged slip in one of its stores.
The Claimant alleged that she sustained injury following a slip on a green bean in the Coop Food store in Amesbury on 28 July 2007 at around 7pm. The Claimant alleged that the store was in breach of the Occupiers Liability Act and negligent in allowing the green bean to be present on the floor and represent a hazard to visitors to the premises and that the store had failed to have in place a reasonable system of inspection and cleaning to ensure that visitors to the store would be reasonably safe.
The store in question was cleaned prior to opening by contract cleaners who then remained in the store until 3pm cleaning where necessary. In addition all staff were trained in the "clean as you go" system and were instructed to be vigilant whilst they went about the store and to deal with any hazards they should find. In addition, non-slip mats were placed in front of priority items which were known to cause accidents (such as grapes and mushrooms) although not in front of the green beans themselves. It was therefore denied that the store had failed to have in place a reasonable system and a witness statement was obtained from the produce manager confirming that the produce aisle would be constantly staffed and all staff were trained in the systems.
The store had no record of the accident and whilst the Claimant provided a description of the member of staff to whom she alleged she had reported the accident none of the staff on duty fitted the description. The Claimant had been unable to present any supporting witness evidence save for that of her boyfriend and friend who were sat in the car outside the store and alleged that the Claimant returned to the car complaining of a fall.
Following sight of the medical evidence there were doubts as to whether the accident had in fact occurred, as alleged, or at all. Therefore an early application was made for sight of the Claimant's medical records which was successful. The records contained no reference to the fall alleged but referred to a fall some 3 weeks later down stairs.
The claim was therefore defended on two fronts, firstly, that the accident simply did not happen or if it did happen it did not cause the alleged injury, and secondly even if the accident did occur the Defendants had a reasonable system in place to ensure that visitors to the store were reasonably safe.
The Judge found that there were real question marks over whether the accident occurred at all and whether any such injury resulted, this, together with what the Judge found to be a reasonable system operated by the store, resulted in the Claimant's claim being dismissed and the Defendant recovering their costs of the action.
This case highlights the importance of exploring all avenues of a Defence. To complement the witness evidence from the store staff as to the Defendant's systems, we were also able to obtain copies of the Claimant's medical records which, together with the lack of any formal report to the store, cast real doubt on the accident circumstances and the alleged injury. This combined approach effectively gave the Court two opportunities to find against the Claimant and the weight of evidence was simply too much to be ignored.