The recent Court of Appeal decision of Vincent v Woolworths Ltd involved a store merchandiser, employed by Counterpoint, working in a Woolworths’ store. The plaintiff had been stocking upper shelves whilst standing on a ‘safety step’, approximately 50 cm in height. She stepped back off the shelf into a trolley being pushed by a customer. The plaintiff’s hip hit the trolley and she fell, sustaining personal injuries.
At first instance, the Supreme Court held the identified risk was foreseeable, but the risk was unlikely to occur and was insignificant. The conduct was common across the industry and there was nothing within Woolworths’ power to prevent the accident. The trial judge held that there was no breach of duty and the plaintiff’s claim should be rejected. The plaintiff appealed the decision.
The Court of Appeal agreed with the primary judge that a reasonable person in Woolworths’ position would not have taken any of the precautions suggested by the plaintiff, such as a plastic barrier around the area the plaintiff was working or allocating a spotter to direct passers‑by around the plaintiff. The Court specifically noted that neither the customer nor the trolley ran into the plaintiff. The plaintiff simply stepped backwards into the rear of the trolley. It was unnecessary for the occupier and the plaintiff’s employer to give the plaintiff a warning as the activity was one that would likely be encountered in ordinary domestic life and in the workplace.
In relation to the claim against the employer, the Court of Appeal held that Counterpoint gave careful attention to the practices of its employees whilst working in supermarkets. The court held that there was also no breach of duty by the employer.
The plaintiff’s appeal was dismissed.