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Slip and Fall Accidents

Supermarkets are common locations of slips and falls. The customer numbers are high and the material to cause the slips is readily to hand.

Under the Occupiers Liability Act 1995 an occupier is obliged to take;

 “… such care as is reasonable in all the circumstances…….to ensure that a visitor to the premises does not suffer injury or damage by reason of any danger existing thereon”

There is a danger in supermarkets that stuff will fall to the floor and customers will slip on it.

The circumstances will vary between one part of the supermarket and another. If a tin of beans falls to the floor, it is unlikely a customer will step on it or fall having stepped on it. However, if vegetables or fruit fall to the floor the customer will surely fall if she steps on it. So, the care to be taken is greater in the area of the vegetables (or containers of oil, for instance).

Ireland does not like to collect information. If it does collect information, it does not like to release it to the public. Until the introduction of the Safety Health and Welfare at Work Act 1989, statistics on work accidents were completely unreliable. Many such accidents had been defined out of existence and were not searched for or recorded. The State set up a commission, the Barrington Commission, to review the facts on accidents at work, in the lead up to the introduction of the 1989 Act.

Things are now improved. Work accidents are monitored, to a degree, by the mis-named Health and Safety Authority.

It is mis-named because it deals almost exclusively with accidents at work, happening to workers. It has no remit to collect data on accidents and/or injuries generally.

For that kind of information we have to look to the USA. See HERE for the US National Safety Council’s report for 2008. On page 29 it recites:

“Falls are the leading cause of nonfatal unintentional injuries that are treated in hospital emergency departments, according to data from the All Injury Program…..More than 8.5 million people were treated in an emergency department for fall-related injuries in 2008. Falls were the leading cause of nonfatal injuries for all age groups except for the 15-24 year old age group, for which struck by or against an object or person was the leading cause. Struck by or against, overexertion, and motor vehicle crashes involving vehicle occupants were also leading causes for most age groups.”

This is surprising; falls injury more people than road accidents. (Possibly not; see page 37 of the US report) What does this mean for retailers?

Perhaps it is time to examine an idea (that a fall in a supermarket should trigger an obligation on the occupier to prove it happened in the absence of fault on the part of the occupier ) similar to one floated in the Irish Supreme Court; (Mullen v Quinnsworth Ltd, t/a Crazy Prices (No 1)[1990] 1 IR59 (raising the possibility of imposing “absolute” liability on the proprietors of large supermarkets on an analogy with the rule in Rylands v Fletcher)