Beware of the slippery floor!
16 Dec 2019
- Personal Injury
We are regularly contacted by people who have suffered injury as a result of tripping or slipping. As Richard Faulks explains, it’s often difficult to maintain a claim in cases where people have slipped on a substance, such as water, unless there’s evidence as to how long the substance had been on the floor, and whether there was some appropriate system of inspection of the premises to try and avoid such risks.
A recent case
You might think that a bathroom in a motel would be a place where one would expect that water may be present. A recent NSW case involved a patron at the Moruya Hotel slipping on water on a tiled floor outside a shower. On this occasion, the injured plaintiff had used the shower and then left the area before returning. When she returned to the bathroom, her feet went from under her and she slipped and suffered a serious hip injury.
The evidence was that the shower recess was inadequate and that water would escape from it and flow on to the floor. The plaintiff had been aware of it and in fact used a spare towel to try and prevent the floor becoming slippery.
Some expert evidence was called to show that the floor was very slippery and that steps should have been taken to avoid water escaping from the shower by providing some relatively simple measures, such as a shower curtain or a hob or some form of non-slip surface.
On the other hand, the hotel’s expert said that the bathroom was in a standard form for a building constructed in the 1960s and 1970s, which was when this hotel had been constructed. He maintained that bathroom floors do become slippery and people need to be cautious. He also seemed to assume that the injured plaintiff had been in a hurry and was wearing particular types of shoes. That assumption was incorrect in terms of the evidence that was called in the case.
Ultimately, the court found that there was a foreseeable risk of injury and that the hotel should have taken some of the relatively inexpensive options to reduce the risk of slipperiness. Not surprisingly, the court also found that the plaintiff had been partly responsible and found 20% contributory negligence.
Our experience has been that expert evidence does not always help in cases involving a slip or fall. In this case, however, the evidence called clearly established a relatively easy alternative system which would have reduced or removed the risk. Each case needs to be looked at carefully on its own facts.