The Supreme Court of ACT has recently handed down its decision in the personal injury case of Buljat v Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Ltd  ACT SC 47. It held that Coles’s “clean as you go” system, which involved training staff to keep a proper lookout for hazards as they go about their daily activities, was sufficient to establish that the cleaning system in its store was reasonable.
At Risksmart, we receive many questions from clients about personal injury claims resulting from claimants slipping on loose grapes in shopping settings. Although this is an ACT Supreme Court (lower court) case and it could be appealed, this judgment can be used by defendants persuasively across Australia to argue that commercial premises do not necessarily need a formalised periodic cleaning and inspection system for the system to be reasonable and adequate. This means defendants that have a “clean as you go” system rather than a formal “20 minutes” cleaning system, can argue that the former is a “good enough system”. This article outlines the decision and explains the implications for commercial premises.
BACKGROUND & FACTS
On 23 September 2017, the claimant was shopping at Coles’s Wooden store when she slipped and fell on a grape, and as a result, injured her right shin. She brought a claim of negligence against Coles under the Civil Law (Wrongs) Act 2002 (ACT).
Counsel for the claimant made the following arguments:
- Coles is aware that grapes incidents are common at the store and yet failed to take the reasonable precautions and allowed the hazard (grape) to manifest on the floor;
- Coles does not have a formal periodic cleaning and inspection system of 20-minute intervals as per the observations made in Strong v Woolworths Ltd  HCA 5;
- Coles’s “clean as you go” system is inadequate for identifying and removing hazards, as established in the case of Prasad v Woolworths Limited  NSWDC 79.
Counsel for the defendant relied on the following arguments:
- The Strong v Woolworth precedent is not conclusive as to how commercial premises should clean and inspect premises.
- The “clean as you go” system in Prasad should be distinguished from Coles’s “clean as you go” policy and training system. Coles’s system is adequate because it requires staff to actively observe and remove hazards as they occur while they go about their daily activities at the stores.
The claimant had the onus to establish that either the “clean as you go” system was inadequate or it was not followed, or that the grapes were not displayed/bagged in a reasonable and proper manner, but she failed to provide any expert or photographic evidence.
The Court highlighted that Coles did not require a periodic and documented system of cleaning and inspection for its cleaning system to be adequate.
Coles’s “clean as you go” system requires its staff to actively look out for spillages and hazards throughout the store which is a reasonable system. Coles’s staff gave evidence to the effect that they were trained to look out and remedy any hazards as they walk through the store, which the Court considered to be sufficient.
IMPLICATIONS FOR COMMERCIAL PREMISES
Commercial premises that operate on a “clean as you go” or similar informal system should ensure their staff is regularly and properly trained on such a cleaning system.
Further, they should keep a training record for each of their staff members to demonstrate that their informal system is effective and adequate in preventing incidents.
Staff members who are on duty should constantly be reminded how to conduct cleaning and inspection activities appropriately. For example, simply walking across the store, and ignoring hazards on the floor is not sufficient. Staff are required to actively look for hazards and remove them immediately.
Whilst this is a great outcome for the Defendant, it remains to be seen if an appeal will be lodged. As this case is not a High Court judgment, it is not a conclusive authority. It must be read alongside the leading High Court judgments in this space.
Nevertheless, the decision can undoubtedly be used as a persuasive authority and if it finds its way to the High Court, it will be interesting to see how it is read in light of the Strong v Woolworth case. In an event that the High Court rules in favour of the defendant again, the claimant will have little scope to raise the Strong v Woolworth argument that commercial premises must have a formalised 20-minute cleaning interval.
As always, we will provide updates as they become available.
Senior Claims Executive
This article constitutes a general overview and should not be construed as legal advice. Although we aim to provide accurate and timely updates, the circumstance of every claim is different. Therefore, you should not rely solely on this article when considering liability prospects.