09 December, 2011
Lawless v Co-operative Group - 1 November 2011
District Judge Willis
Forbes successfully defended a claim for the Co-operative Group Ltd in respect of an accident in its store premises in Weymouth in June 2009. The Claimant alleged that she had slipped on a grape in the fresh produce aisle in the store.
The Claimant alleged that the Defendant was in breach of the Occupiers Liability Act and negligent in allowing the grape to be present.
This claim was defended on the basis that, firstly, this hazard simply did not exist and, secondly, the Defendant did all that was reasonable to ensure visitors to the premises were reasonably safe. In this regard 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 or other hazard.
The Defendant was able to produce evidence from the Store Manager to dispute the cause of the accident. The Store Manager had just commenced a store walk with the Regional Manager at the time of the accident. She witnessed the Claimant fall and immediately went to her aid. In her witness evidence she stated that both she and the Claimant studied the floor and were unable to find any cause of the Claimant's fall, they also studied the Claimant's footwear and were unable to find any traces of a grape or any other substance which may have caused the fall.
Immediately following the accident the Claimant remarked to the store manager that she had recently been diagnosed with arthritis in that knee - something which the Claimant denied. We were able to obtain copies of the Claimant's medical records which confirmed an attendance at her GP's two days previously for knee problems which helped to cast doubt over the Claimant's evidence.
The burden of proof falls on the Claimant to prove the cause of her fall. The Judge found that she had not done this. He commended the Defendant's evidence and found that if there had been a hazard the Store Manager would have accepted this. He went on to state that "it is not for the Court to speculate [as to the cause of this accident], falls do happen."
Given that the Claimant did not prove her case it was unnecessary for the Court to consider points on the Defendant's cleaning systems.
The claim was dismissed with an order that the Claimant pay the Defendant's costs.
This case demonstrates the importance of strong witness evidence. The store manager was an excellent witness and was able to dispute the Claimant's evidence as she had attended on the scene in the immediate aftermath of the accident. Her evidence on the Claimant's comments regarding her injuries and the subsequent review of the medical records was able to cast further doubt on the Claimant's evidence.