The duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that a shopping mall is reasonably safe, falls on the owner or any person who may be in control of the premises. The appointment of an independent cleaning contractor, does not entitle the owner or the person in control to avoid liability for claims which arise as a result of the contractor’s failure to keep the premises safe.

In Holtzhausen v Cenprop Real Estate (Pty) Ltd and Another, the claimant instituted action against the defendants, the owner and manager of a shopping mall, for injuries she sustained after she slipped and fell at the mall. She fell because the titles were wet and slippery as a result of rain which had been carried in via rain jackets, umbrellas and shoes of persons entering the mall. Expert evidence revealed that the floor tiles at the mall were dangerous underfoot when they were wet.

The defendants denied negligence on the basis that they had appointed competent contractors to maintain, clean and check the surface area of the floors at the mall and to ensure that they remained clean and free of any spillages. In the event of a spillage and litter in the corridors, professional security members, appointed by the defendants, would ensure that the cleaning staff is informed. The security was further required to lookout for any potential hazards, and bring this to the attention of the cleaning staff.

The court found that the defendants were liable for the claimant’s damages. The duty to take reasonable steps to safeguard visitors to a mall and ensure that the floors are safe, falls principally on the owner and any person who may be in control of the premises.

It appeared from the agreement with the defendants that the cleaning contractor was not required to constantly dry floors when they became wet. It was only required to keep them clean and free of any spillages. The court found that the rainwater, which is brought into the mall by those who enter it, does not constitute a spillage.

Spillage cases, according to the court, deal with instances where a floor which would in the ordinary course of normal everyday use be safe, becomes unsafe when something is accidentally spilt onto it. Such cases must be distinguished from instances where floors are inherently unsafe or dangerous because of their composition. The problem with the floor on which the claimant slipped and fell was that it was laid over with tiles which were dangerous when they became wet. The tiles constituted a hazard when they were wet, but this did not make the incident which occurred a spillage case.

Mall and shop owners cannot divest themselves of responsibility for their own negligence (as in this case for installing dangerous tiles).This does not mean that the cleaning company will not be liable for their own negligence causing harm, separately or jointly with the owner.