Grapes of Wrath – Slipping and Winning

There is no denying it. The fruit and vegetable aisles of our supermarkets are dangerous. Couple this accident-prone area with poor choice of footwear (think thongs, however ugg boots are probably ill-advised too) and you may just land in a heap.

This was the case of Fatma Abdul Razzak who in April 2015, slipped on a grape in a Coles supermarket and fell, allegedly injuring herself. When she slipped, a Coles employee was nearby unpacking grapes onto a table. Ms Razzak sued Coles for negligence and claimed compensation to the sum of at least $35,000 claiming she suffered neck and lower back pain as a result of the incident.

On 22 June 2017, the NSW District Court found in favour of Coles. It held that the grape could have only been on the floor for no longer than ten minutes and that it was unreasonable to expect that fallen organic matter be cleaned up immediately. The Court accepted Coles’ evidence that it had spill mats in place and staff undertook routine spot-checking every 7-20 minutes and found that this was sufficient to discharge Coles of negligence in the current case.

Judge David Russell said that Coles has a duty to take ‘reasonable care’ but was not bound “to ensure the absolute safety” of all customers. He said that it would be unreasonable to expect Coles to employ staff to do nothing but watch for dropped organic matter or having a staff member “shadow every customer as they walked around the store“.

Contrast that case, with that of Sangeeta Guru and we have a totally different outcome. In October 2012, Ms Guru slipped on a grape in a Coles Supermarket in Cambridge Gardens near Penrith, injuring her knees and jarring her back.

At the time, Ms Guru was wearing thongs and the villainous grape was found squashed on the sole of her thong. An employee came to her aid and told Ms Guru that she had been on her tea break and had not yet had time to clean up.

In this case, Judge Leonard Levy found that Coles was liable and ordered to pay compensation of $90,000 (which was a far cry from Ms Guru’s claimed $1 million) to Ms Guru. Coles argued that Ms Guru contributed to the negligence by failing to watch where she was going. The Court held it was unreasonable to expect shoppers to look at the floor whilst shopping.

But how common is it? Were these just 2 bad grapes in a bunch? Sadly not. Grapes (amongst other organic matter) having been preying on unbeknownst shopping victims since timely memorial. Sometimes, the victims slip and win and other times the grape gets away and it’s all chalked up to bad luck.

What about the case of Margaret Hill and Coles? Early one morning in January 2013, Margaret was in a Coles’ fruit and vegetable aisle in Kings Langley, when she slipped and fell on water which had spilled onto the floor from the nearby fruit and vegetable refrigerator. As a result, Ms Hill suffered a serious injury to her left ankle which later required surgery and is unable to undertake most physical activities previously enjoyed. Adding to that, Ms Hill’s husband is disabled and unable to help around the house.

Coles again argued that Ms Hill suffered the injury because of her own negligence in failing to keep a proper lookout and avoiding an obvious hazard.

On 12 February 2016, the District Court found Coles had breached its duty of care owed to Ms Hill to ensure the store was safe for customers. The Court found that a non-slip mat should have been placed in front of the refrigerator to safeguard against this risk. Ms Hill was awarded $292,335 (part of which allowed for a claim of future domestic assistance) and Coles had to pay all her legal costs.

What’s the moral of the story? If you slip and fall in a supermarket (or any other place for that matter) and hurt yourself, there may be a negligent party who could be liable to pay you compensation. There are a few things you should do first; assess your surroundings, look for witnesses, see a Doctor and of course, see a reputable lawyer to see whether you have a claim or whether it was just your turn to eat rotten grapes.