In Huntbach -v- B&M RetailHayley Riach scores a win for retailers who want to display seasonal items outside their shop without risking the cost of a claim. Here, she explains how she did it.

Background

The claimant was walking out of the defendant’s shop when she tripped over a garden hammock that was on display outside. The claimant did not report the incident. Another customer notified an employee who in turn alerted the manager but, by that time, the claimant had left the store. The manager reviewed the CCTV footage of the incident, which showed that the claimant had been looking into her purse when she tripped.

Issues

The claimant alleged that the hammock was encroaching upon the designated walkway and pursued a claim for soft tissue injury as a result of the defendant’s alleged negligence. We denied liability. The hammock had been in situ for a number of weeks before and after the incident without issue. Further, the incident had happened as the claimant left the shop, meaning that the claimant had managed to walk into the store and past the hammock without tripping.

Unfortunately, the defendant had not retained the CCTV footage, but did rely upon the evidence of the shop manager and employee.

The decision

The matter proceeded to trial and the claim was dismissed. The judge found that:

  • The defendant had taken reasonable steps to ensure that members of the public were kept reasonably safe.
  • A warning sign on the hammock would not have prevented the incident occurring.
  • There was no requirement for a risk assessment.
  • Over 20,000 people had entered and left the store whilst the hammock was in position and there had been no other incident. This in itself was sufficient to satisfy him that the hammock’s position was not dangerous.
  • There was nothing obscuring the claimant’s view of the hammock and the claimant had admitted that it was perfectly visible.

The judge awarded costs to our client.

The implications

The judge found that the hammock was clearly there to be seen and did not require a warning sign to highlight its presence. In fact, to place a warning sign near it would have created something else to trip over! The judge also placed great weight on the number of people that had walked past the hammock without incident and found that this in itself was sufficient to satisfy him that there had been no breach of duty.

This is an extremely useful decision for retailers who display seasonal items outside of their stores. It also reiterates the importance of good witness evidence and gives reassurance that even where CCTV footage is no longer available, a defendant can successfully maintain a denial.