In Kricovic v The Star Pty Limited  NSWDC a 'loyal' customer of Sydney's Star Casino was awarded $150,000 for soft tissue injuries to his lower back suffered in a slip and fall incident.
The case illustrates that where customers of any premises are allowed to randomly carry food and drinks the occupier has very high obligations to minimise the risk of slip and fall incidents.
The plaintiff was walking across a polished marble surface when he slipped and fell on a puddle of clear liquid, likely to have been water.
The incident occurred on a busy night in that 3,000 people had attended a concert. The casino was also short staffed because several workers had called in sick and not been able to be replaced.
Casino staff were instructed to ensure that all areas were 'maintained', especially toilets. However, the casino did not lead evidence that it implemented 'a process of active and regular inspection' and there was no evidence of any specific staff cleaning rosters.
Contract cleaners were on the premises to be called to attend to spills on an ad hoc basis but there was no evidence of a 'supervisory' cleaning presence.
The defendant contended that the water came from a customer, who was shown moments before in the CCTV footage to be gesticulating while holding a water bottle. However, Judge Levy found that the footage was not clear enough to permit a conclusion that the water bottle was open or closed and hence for a reliable conclusion as to when the liquid was deposited to be made.
Finally, his Honour found that the CCTV footage for the 30 minutes before the incident did not show any staff member specifically engaged in actively inspecting the floor where the plaintiff fell.
In entering verdict for the plaintiff, his Honour found that, in circumstances where thousands of people were expected to be at the premises and a large number of them would be expected to walk on polished marble walking areas, some carrying drinks, slip hazards were inevitable.
His Honour therefore found that the casino ought to have required staff members to exercise a 'vigilant supervisory function in relation to floor areas where slip hazards might occur at random ...'. While not stating how often inspections ought to have occurred, he found that they should be 'frequent, regular and systematic'.
Kricovic demonstrates that for commercial premises – particularly in the hospitality industry – most cases will be indefensible unless the defendant has implemented a very stringent system of periodic inspection.
Further, that if a claim is to be defended on the basis that the hazard had recently been deposited and hence that no system would have prevented the incident, the quality of the evidence in support of this defence needs to be high.
Cooper Grace Ward is a leading Australian law firm based in Brisbane.
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