Slippery business: supermarket injuries and your rights

Many people have done it. You’re rushing around the supermarket, trying to grab some food so you can have dinner at a reasonable hour. Then, all of a sudden – you’re down.

Taking a tumble on a supermarket floor or being struck by a falling can or box are relatively common occurrences. But who’s to blame when these types of accidents happen? And if you are on the receiving end of a blow or fall, what happens if the supermarket tries to get you to sign a release form?

What are your rights in these situations – and when is it really your fault.

Who's really at fault?

Like most larger commercial shopping centres, supermarkets invite the public to do business on their premises. That means they have a duty of care to their shoppers, to ensure they remain free of injury.

But that doesn’t mean a supermarket is always liable in the case of an injury. It really depends on how the accident occurs.

Say, for instance, you’re running through the supermarket in a rush to buy something. You’re acting carelessly. If you injured someone while doing this, especially if you were pushing a trolley, you would be seen as liable for that injury.

Maybe you sustained an injury by climbing on the shelving racks to grab an item that was out of your reach, without asking a staff member to help you.

In these cases, you may only have yourself to blame.

But what if the supermarket is liable?

There are plenty of ways a supermarket may inadvertently cause injury. These can include:

  • slippery floors due to spills or leakages
  • low visibility of 'Cleaning in Progress' signs, or no cleaning signs on display
  • lack of mats in appropriate areas such as entrances or exits on rainy days, or at the fruit and vegetable section where items such as grapes and lettuce are sold
  • staff carelessly pushing fully loaded stock trolleys which block the view of their path
  • defective or inappropriate trolleys in shopping centres that have travelators.

Sustaining an injury in one of these situations is, sadly, not an uncommon occurrence. But you should be wary of signing any sort of release form if one is presented to you.

The reason for this is because these forms mostly provide an 'all in offer', and include a clause that prevents you from making future claims against the store. Once you sign that release, you don’t have any options.

The reason supermarkets often ask you to sign a release form is simple: they don't want to be held liable for any accident they may have caused. 

The same goes for medical authority forms.  Be cautious not to sign these authorities as it allows the supermarket to obtain medical reports and have access to all your medical records. 

So what can you do?

Picture this. You enter a supermarket and slip on a puddle next to the flower display. You sue the supermarket… and lose.

But why? Shouldn’t the floor have been clean and dry?

Well, this actually happened. In 2015, a woman sued Coles claiming she slipped on water and fell. But a successful appeal by Coles found CCTV footage didn’t capture any event which caused water to spill – and determined that the plaintiff must have caused the spill when she knocked over the flower bucket.

This is important – in order to successfully sue a supermarket, you must be able to identify what caused your injury. You must also be able to prove that the supermarket did not have an adequate system of inspection and cleaning in place. That means you should answer some questions, like:

  • What store where you in, and what date and time of day was it?
  • Did a spill cause you to fall?
  • What was the liquid in question?
  • Where was this in the store? Note the aisle and area, including anything of significance like a leaking fridge or lack of mats.
  • What colour was the spill?
  • What colour was the floor?
  • Was the spill visible to other shoppers?
  • Were there any cleaning signs visible?

You also need to be thorough. Report your injury to a manager immediately, and make sure you seek medical attention. And as crazy as this sounds, if you have a mobile phone – use it. Take photos of the entire area for evidence, and if possible, take a picture of the substance you slipped on.

You might want to consider asking any witnesses for their details in case you need to contact them. (They might be nervous about doing this, however.)

What can you claim?

If you sustained damages as a result of your injury, you may be entitled to a public liability claim. You can also seek damages for pain and suffering, income loss, attendant care and other relevant damages.

However, there is a statute of limitations on these types of claims. This is why it’s important to act quickly. Seek medical attention, gather all the information you need, and be organised in the event of a supermarket injury.

TOPIC: Public safety
RELATED LEGAL SERVICES: Public liability

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Trang van Heugten

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
Trang van Heugten is a Senior Associate who practices exclusively in the Public Liability and Faulty Products department at Maurice Blackburn, based in Melbourne. She is also a Law Institute of Victoria Personal Injury Accredited Specialist who has a particular interest in bringing claims for the survivors of childhood sexual abuse. Trang is specially trained in trauma informed practice which ensures she works with clients to access justice in a way that recognises the complex trauma they have suffered. Trang has substantial experience across a wide range of public liability and faulty product matters, including successfully representing people who have been injured after landlords, councils, schools, shops, manufacturers and other businesses and organisations failed to take reasonable care to members of the public. Some of Trang's successful cases include a: tenant who fell five metres to the ground when the balustrade of his rented property collapsed disabled man who sustained severe burns to over half of his body when he was trapped in a shower facility of a nursing home homeowner who free fell several metres in the defective lift which was installed in her home shopper who was almost crushed by a defective shopping trolley while travelling on an travelator, and mum who sustained serious back injuries when she was crushed under the weight of unsecured soccer goal posts Trang also has substantial experience across a wide range of commercial and civil litigation.                 Before joining the Public Liability department, Trang worked as a senior lawyer for Maurice Blackburn Commercial, assisting in the conduct of a large Supreme Court action between pharmaceutical corporations. Trang was the Associate to Mr Justice Peter Buchanan of the Victorian Court of Appeal from 2000 to 2002 and worked as a lawyer at another leading law firm from 2002 to 2008. Trang graduated from La Trobe University with a Bachelor of Laws (Hons) and was admitted to practice in 1999. She also holds a Bachelor of Science (Psychology) from the University of Melbourne. Trang is a member of the Law Institute of Victoria. She speaks fluent Vietnamese and is actively involved in the Vietnamese community. ...

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