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Laverton v Kiapasha, Court of Appeal

27 November 2002
The issues

Wet slippery floor – Occupiers Liability Act – contributory negligence – slipping.

The facts

The Defendants owned a takeaway shop. The Claimant had been out in pubs and ending in a club. In the early hours of Saturday morning, she visited the Defendant’s shop. She was wearing ankle boots with 1Ω inch cowboy style heels. She had drunk something in the region of 10 double bacardis or 20 units of alcohol according to the hospital which received her after the accident. The shop was about 12 foot 7 by 13 foot 5 in respect of the public area. There were about 30 people in the shop at the time.

The floor of the shop was wet from rain being walked into the shop. The Claimant slipped and fractured her ankle.

The shop floor had been re-laid in 1996 with slip resistant tiles. The Defendant had 2 mops and a bucket at the back of the shop to deal with spillages. On busy nights, they mopped up 6-7 times but could not mop when the shop was full. The Judge found for the Claimant at first instance finding that the Defendant had failed to take reasonable care in operating the cleaning system and particularly given that the tiles when slippery were wet and that there was no mat in place. No finding of contributory negligence was made. The Defendant appealed.

The decision

Lord Justice Mance – Dissenting

1. There was a distinction between mopping up greasy spillages which would pose a particular hazard and dealing with a naturally occurring phenomenon like walked in water which was not an unusual danger, was not concealed, and was something of which customers ought to be aware.

Moreover, walked in water was something that could not be avoided completely even with a mat and regular mopping.

The Claimant should have been aware of the risk. The slip resistant floor could not be criticised.

There had been no previous incidents of this sort.

The duty was to take reasonable care to ensure that visitors were reasonably safe. Safety was not guaranteed. It would be going too far to say every shop of this type should have a fixed doormat and, even if there had been, it would not have prevented water being brought in at busy times to make the floor slippery. The floor could not be mopped at busy times and the only answer would have been to shut the shop which the Defendant should have done if customers could not otherwise be safe. But “the reality is at such times the customers can be reasonably safe if they take reasonable care for their own safety”.

2. If the Defendant had been found liable, contributory negligence would have been assessed at 50% (Lord Justice Mance dissented save as to contributory negligence on the basis that even non-slip tiles are more slippery when wet and at the heart of the first instance Judge’s reasoning was that there would have been less water on the floor if the mat had been in place and the system of cleaning up water had been operated in the way in which the Defendant said it should have been operated. The Judge was entitled to find that the situation at the time that the Claimant entered would have been materially different as regards water on the tiles inside the shop if the mat and/or the system had been in place and in operation.)

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