Co-op not liable for spilt milk


19 August, 2009

Elizabeth Aitken v Co-operative Group Limited

Forbes recently represented the Co-operative Group Ltd at trial in a slipping claim where the Claimant's claim was dismissed as District Judge Mainwaring-Taylor found that the Co-operative Group had taken all reasonable care for the safety of visitors to its premises.

The Claimant alleged that she attended the Co-operative store in Great Ayton and as she walked down the aisle she slipped on some milk that had been spilt on the floor and fell sustaining personal injury.

The Group Risk and Insurance Department of the Co-operative Group denied liability on the basis that the store had a proper system in place to deal with spillages. Members of staff were instructed in the "Clean as you go" policy; they were trained to remain vigilant for spillages and to take immediate action upon observing the presence of a spillage.

The shop floor was also subject to an hourly inspection regime and the last inspection was carried out some 15 minutes before the Claimant's accident. Furthermore, the store manager had been working in vicinity of the Claimant's accident a few minutes before the accident occurred when the floor was clean and dry.

At Trial, it was accepted that the Claimant had the fall as alleged by her, she could not say how long the milk had been on the floor and whether the store knew prior to her fall that the milk had been spilt on the floor.

The Trial Judge accepted the store manager's evidence and the fact that she had inspected the floor a few minutes before the Claimant's fall when it was free from spillages. He also accepted that she had been working close to the point where the Claimant fell and as such she would probably have noticed the drips of milk on the floor had they been there.

The Judge concluded that the spillage must have occurred a short time before the accident. The Judge accepted evidence that at approximately the same time as the Claimant had her accident, a customer appeared at the till with a leaking milk carton. He found that whilst the Defendant's check out staff might have known of a spillage moments before the Claimant's fall, there was insufficient time for them to do anything about it.

The Judge found the Defendant had not breached its duty and the Claimant's claim was dismissed.

Forbes Comment

The case demonstrates the importance of evidence tending to prove that the hazard could only have been present for a short space of time . Even if the store had not operated a hourly inspection regime, this case was capable of being successfully defended on the evidence from the store manager that she had been working in the vicinity of the accident only minutes before it occurred and there was no milk split at that time.

For further information please contact Naila Aziz at our Blackburn office, Marsden House, 28 Wellington Street (St John's), Blackburn, BB1 8DA. Tel: 01254 662831 or contact Naila Aziz by email.


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