23 July, 2014
Forbes has successfully defended a claim at trial on behalf of The Co-operative Group in a claim where a Claimant sustained a personal injury whilst visiting a Co-operative store.
It was the Claimant's case that having shopped in the Co-operative store she took her purchases to her car. She then re-entered the store and made her way towards the front entrance in order to leave, to shop briefly elsewhere. She alleged that she slipped on water which was on the floor just beyond a mat, which was located in the vicinity of a freezer cabinet. It was alleged that the matting provided was insufficient.
It was The Co-operative Group's case that the floor and the surrounds were not wet. Witness evidence on behalf of The Co-operative Group confirmed that there was no water in the area where the Claimant had fallen or anything else which could have caused the Claimant to fall over and, in operating the "clean as you go system", had there been any contamination of the floor it would have been noted and cleaned up accordingly. Also, no other shoppers had been inconvenienced in their movements around that area.
It therefore fell to the Court to decide whether or not there was a hazard on the floor and if so, whether that hazard caused the Claimant to fall.
At trial, the Judge accepted that there was no doubt that the Claimant had fallen. CCTV evidence of the fall was shown in Court. In the Claimant's oral evidence she accepted that she did not see any water on the floor either before or after the fall. When cross-examined she said "I fell so I assumed there was water on the floor or the mat because that is the only explanation". The CCTV footage demonstrated that both before and after her fall other persons in the store walked safely and without concern over the area of floor where she had fallen. It was also clear from the footage that immediately before falling she changed direction to her left in order to avoid persons walking towards her.
The Judge found that the Claimant's case was based speculatively on the presence of water rather than by any evidence that it was on the floor. Whereas, the Defendant had provided firm and entirely satisfactory evidence that the floor was dry.
Counsel for the Claimant submitted that this was a case of res ipsa loquitur. The maxim relies on the facts speaking for themselves - in other words the Claimant's fall could not have occurred without a breach of duty by the Defendant. The Judge submitted that this was misguided and was plainly not the case as he concluded that the Claimant "whether in changing direction or simply by mis-stepping turned her foot and fell for no apparent reason - and the floor was dry". In any event, the Judge was satisfied and found as fact that the "clean as you go" system was a reasonable one and was properly implemented. Accordingly the Claimant's case was dismissed.
This case highlights the importance of fully investigating a claim and approaching the Defence from every possible angle. The CCTV footage suggested the lack of any hazard and when coupled with the evidence of the store staff the Judge was able to find that no hazard existed.
As a fall back position the clean as you go system was also supported by the witness evidence and, although not a deciding factor, the Judge found that the 'Clean as you go' system in place was a reasonable one and was properly implemented at the time of the accident.
At Forbes we have a wealth of experience of defending Retail Sector claims from the early investigation stages right up to the final trial.