29 February, 2012
Forbes successfully defended a claim for the Co-operative Group Ltd in respect of an accident in its store premises in Weymouth on New Years Eve, 2007. The Claimant sustained injury when he slipped on potato salad on the floor of the alcohol aisle in the Defendant's store.
The Claimant alleged that the Defendant was in breach of the Occupiers Liability Act and negligent in allowing the hazard to be present and that they had failed to have in place a reasonable system to ensure the Claimant was reasonably safe in using the store.
The incident had been captured on the store's CCTV system and both the store manager and his deputy had watched the footage in great detail post accident. Unfortunately the footage had subsequently been lost and was not available to the Court. We were able to produce good witness evidence from the two employees as to what they had seen on the CCTV camera. They had seen the hazard being cleaned by a member of staff some 2 minutes post accident and had traced the hazard back to another customer placing her basket down on the location of the hazard less than a minute prior to the accident, this customer then reported the spillage to a member of staff and as that member of staff made her way to clean the hazard the Claimant reported his accident.
This claim was defended on the basis that, firstly, the hazard had only been present for a matter of seconds and as such no system of cleaning would have identified it prior to the Claimant's accident. Secondly, it was defended on the basis that the store 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 Judge was impressed by the Defendant's evidence and concluded that all 3 of the Defendant's witness were honest and credible. He accepted that the hazard had been present for less than a minute and therefore found that no system could have identified the hazard between it presenting itself and the Claimant falling. Given this finding he felt it unnecessary to comment on the Defendant's systems.
The Claimant's claim was therefore dismissed with an order that the Claimant pay the Defendant's costs.
This case demonstrates the importance of strong witness evidence. Although the CCTV footage was unfortunately lost we were able to produce evidence from two witnesses who had viewed the footage and were consistent with their evidence that the hazard had been present for less than a minute. This meant it was unnecessary for the Court to consider the Defendant's systems as no system, however efficient, could have identified the hazard in such a shore period of time.