Insights

Slips and Trips – No counsel of Perfection 

A recent appeal decision in Apres Lounge Limited v Wade has established that a defendant must only have a reasonable system of inspection in place when dealing with floor spillages.  

The Claimant brought a claim for personal injury against a nightclub when she slipped on a spillage close to the bar area. The Claimant alleged amongst other things, that the Defendant failed to “devise, institute and/or maintain any or any adequate” system for the inspection of the floor. 

Evidence was given by the assistant manager of the nightclub that 2 or 3 other members of staff were continually walking around the nightclub looking for spillages. It was estimated that this took place every 10 to 15 minutes.  

The trial judge accepted the Defendant’s evidence but nonetheless found that the system in place of checking the floor every 10 to 15 minutes was not suitable and thus the Claimant was successful.  

The Defendant appealed the decision in the High Court. The judge allowed the appeal on 2 grounds: 

  • Ground 1: The trial judge was wrong to find that checking the floor every 10-15 minutes was not sufficient to satisfy the duty of care owed to the Claimant. 
  • Ground 2: The trial judge imposed an unreasonably high burden upon the Defendant and thereby erred in law.

Regarding Ground 1, the appeal judge found that the trial judge fell into error when he held that the Defendant’s system of inspection, as described by the assistant manager, had not been reasonable in all the circumstances to keep the Claimant reasonably safe. 

The appeal judge held that the evidence established that the Defendant’s system had been one of continuous monitoring by continual walking, with the result that every area was checked at least every 10 to 15 minutes. He noted that when the Defendant said that the system of inspection was every 10 to 15 minutes, this meant that every area would have been checked at least with that frequency, but there was continuous monitoring. He commented that there was no doubt that if the staff, as they carried out their continuous walking checks, saw a drink being spilt, they would have reacted straight away to deal with it in accordance with their training. 

The appeal judge further noted that there was direct and detailed evidence of the system which was being operated in the bar that night, and that it was sufficient to fulfil the statutory duty lying upon the Defendant. Its system was proactive and not reactive. It was one of continuous monitoring. 

Regarding Ground 2, the appeal judge stated that the high standard imposed by the trial judge amounted to a counsel of perfection.  

This meaning that the standard imposed would have amounted to the Defendant having to operate a system of continuous surveillance and monitoring so that no spilt liquid could ever be present on the floor at all and would have required many more members of staff to constantly monitor every patch of floor in the premises. He found that this would have gone far beyond what was required.  

This appeal decision provides a summary of decisions on the question of what constitutes a reasonable system in the context of slipping accident claims. 

It is worth noting that the trial judge only heard evidence from the assistant manager. None of the employees responsible for operating the system gave evidence at trial. The evidence given was however sufficient to satisfy the evidential burden on the Defendant to show that it had implemented a reasonable system of care. 

This finding is in stark contrast with the seemingly clear conclusion in Dawkins v Carnival plc 2011 where it was found that an absence of evidence from employees claimed to be implemented the system, meant that the judge was not entitled to infer that a spillage that led to a slip occurred only a short time before the accident.   

The difference is perhaps that the assistant manager in this case was working on the night in question and was able to give evidence that the system was being implemented. It therefore appears that some direct evidence from the Defendant as to the implementation of their reasonable system is still likely to be required to satisfy the evidential burden. However the persons who actually implemented the system at the relevant time need not provide that evidence. 

*This article is not legal advice but provides a general overview. The specific details of your case will determine the best course of action.