In any ‘slip and trip’ incident, a court will apply the negligence test namely that a person is liable for foreseeable harm caused to another that could have been avoided by the exercise of reasonable care. The plaintiff sued the defendant retail store for damages that she sustained as a result of slipping and falling on a spillage of cake flour on the floor.
The court held that the shop owner failed to keep the floor at its store clean and free of hazards and accordingly breached its legal duty. The failure to take such steps to prevent foreseeable harm to the shoppers constituted negligent conduct on the part of the shop owner.
The circumstances of the claimant’s slip and fall was:
- She was wearing flat pump shoes;
- She had been to the store on numerous occasions;
- She only noticed the spillage of cake flour on the light-coloured floor where she had fell after the incident occurred;
- The spillage of the cake flour was not visible to her before her fall; and
- She was in a hurry but not running.
At the time and place of the incident, an employee of the store was packing cake flour onto the shelves.
On the store’s version, there was no cake flour spillage. The store’s witness accepted that the store had a duty to keep the floor clean and had they seen the spillage, they would have cleaned it.
The store’s witness further conceded that: the spillage of cake flour on the floor would pose a danger; there was a stack of 12.5 kg flours packed in the area where the claimant slipped and fell. Because the store’s employee was still busy packing, he had not cleaned the area and he would have cleaned it after he had finished packing them. The witness further conceded that on a balance of probabilities the flour on the floor would have emanated from the flour bags that the employee was busy packing and that had caused the incident.
The court found that the store was liable to the claimant for such damages resulting from her injuries as a result of her fall. The reasoning is as follows:
- The incident was caused by the sole negligence of the store and its employees because they failed to keep the floor free of hazards, by cleaning the flour on the floor or warning customers of the hazard;
- The store’s employees had a duty to keep the floor clean;
- It was not onerous to expect the store’s employees to clean the cake flour spillage or warn customers of the hazard or divert them from the hazard; and
- The cake flour spillage created a dangerous hazard to the shoppers in circumstances when the store was busy.
The Pete case is a reminder that store owners must implement proper measures in place to detect any spillages and to warn of hazards, for instance by using the familiar yellow sign. Even in circumstances where the spillage is not readily noticeable even to the store owner, an owner may still be liable to a claimant as a result of any injuries sustained if the hazard was created by an employee in the store.
Pete v Boxer Superstore (Pty) Ltd  ZAECPEHC 9 (5 May 2022).
You will find another analysis of this case here.