Once a defendant owner of a premises can demonstrate to the Court that, despite the fact that the claimant / Plaintiff slipped on their premises, that they had a good system for inspection / cleaning of spillages, the defendant will usually succeed in having the Plaintiff`s Proceedings dismissed. This is the defence which Dunnes Stores raised in the Claim by their department manager Eileen Monahan in High Court Proceedings titled Eileen Monahan – v – Dunnes Stores and Dunnes Stores (ILAC CENTRE) Limited High Court 2009 No 7130P. The Court was not however prepared to accept this defence in this instance.
The incident took place on the defendant’s premises at the Ilac Centre on the September,2006. Mr. Pat Tully, who was the manager of the defendant’s store, was assisting Ms. Elaine Hayes with a display of large and rather unstable Christmas gift bottles of olive oil which were on a tiered table when he destabilised the display causing anything between six and ten bottles to come crashing to the ground creating a hazard from broken glass and a spillage of oil that covered an area of approximately 6×10 feet. As a result of slipping on the olive oil the plaintiff sustained injury.
The plaintiff claimed that the defendant was negligent in its management of the aforementioned spillage in that it failed to warn her of its presence or protect her from inadvertently walking into the area and that as a result she fell heavily as she approached Mr. Tully to speak to him prior to clocking out of work that evening. The respondent on the other hand maintained that it acted with reasonable care for the Plaintiff. There was a conflict of evidence as to the circumstances of the accident and as to the warnings given by Mr Tully to Ms Monahan.
THE JUDGE`S DECISION
What was important in this case, in the opinion of the judge, Ms Justice Irvine, was that there was a spillage of oil in a departmental clothes store, which was an abnormally slippery substance but would also not be expected to be on the premises in the first instance. In those circumstances, she believed that the Plaintiff could not be deemed to have reasonably expected this substance to be spilled on the floor and in the circumstances the defendant should have ensured that this section of the premises was actually cordoned off while the area was being cleaned up. This, in the opinion of the judge, was not a council of perfection, because of the nature of the hazard created and the foreseeability of consequential injury. Accordingly, she found for the Plaintiff.
It would appear that, where there has been a spillage on the defendant`s premises which occurs in the normal course of business and the defendant takes reasonable measures to warn visitors of that spillage and to clean up the spillage then the defendant will not be responsible for instances where a visitors slips on that spillage. This would be typical of a situation where a patron slips on spilt drink on the floor of a pub or nightclub. If however the substance spilt could not normally be expected on the particular type of premises then the defendant owner is required to take extra precautions over and above the normal standard of care if he wants to avoid liability to a Plaintiff who slips on the spillage in that instance.