Shopping. Slipping. Suing

Garry Hertzberg, practicing attorney at Dewey Hertzberg levy and Host of the Laws of Life with Garry Hertzberg on writes:

Shopping in a supermarket can be a real adventure.

I find that most shoppers are not fully aware of their surroundings, and incidents of trolley bashing are common. An upshot of this shopper-oblivion is that often shoppers are completely blind to potential hazards in a shop, a can of beans perched precariously on the top shelf, a cold-drink bottle not quite in its cradle in the fridge, just waiting to pounce on an unsuspecting customer.

Customers themselves can also be responsible for causing these hazards.

I recently watched a scene play out that could have been straight out of a slapstick comedy show. A young man grabbed a bag of sugar, which is notoriously badly sealed, off the shelf, spraying sugar across the aisle. Without a backwards glance, he was off to the till point and out the door leaving a potential hazard unnoticed and unattended just ripe for comedy to ensue. Another shopper, a young lady in heels immediately came along and slipped on the sugar, sliding on one foot like a professional figure skater, arms swinging wildly, all the way down the aisle.

Thankfully she did not fall and get hurt, but the danger was there. What would have happened if she was hurt? How would the law see the supermarket’s liability for any damage?

It has been answered in the Supreme Court of Appeal, where a woman had fallen in a patch of some sort of oily substance and hurt herself. She alleged that the store was negligent and should pay her damages.

In our law, a party will be liable for negligence where there is a failure to take steps to prevent harm in the face of a predictable danger. The court held that there is a duty on a shopkeeper to take reasonable steps to ensure things such as spillages are not allowed to become hazards for any material length of time, and that they are made safe with reasonable haste.

In this case, there was no time for the employees of the shop to come along and clean up the sugar, it would be unfair to hold the store liable for an event that they could not have prevented.

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