The Plaintiff was an inmate at the Sir David Longland Correctional Centre on 21 December 2002. The Plaintiff was using crutches, due to an ankle injury, when he fell in the common area of the cell block because, according to the trial judge, “a small quantity of water on the floor under the tip of his right crutch caused the crutch to slip from under him.”
The trial judge held the State had an obligation to have a system of periodic inspections in place, of at least every two hours, specifically for the floor in particular areas where this individual Plaintiff would walk and that the State had breached its duty of care as it did not have a formal system of inspection in place.
On appeal the State contended that the trial judges’ decision would have a tremendous impact on the way the State managed prisons requiring a rigorous regime of inspection. The State contended that prison officers inspected the floor in the course of their regular patrols. The evidence, from a log book and CCTV, indicated that such patrols occurred on an approximate hourly basis.
On appeal the Plaintiff’s claim was dismissed with the Court noting that the only evidence of the size and visibility of the water was provided by the respondent as a “fine spray” or a “tiny little puddle”. The respondent stated “the only reason why I saw it is because my face was flat on the ground…” Neither of the two witnesses subsequently on the scene saw the subject water following the incident. The Plaintiff gave evidence in cross-examination that he only saw the water due to his “vantage point on the floor.”
The Court stated at paragraph 19:
As the primary judge observed, a small patch of water might be difficult to see even for a person conducting a specific inspection of the floor. That was certainly true of the water found to have caused the respondent’s fall. None of the respondent, Cook or Wright saw that water before the accident. Neither Cook nor Wright was found to have seen it after the accident. If anyone saw the relevant water after the accident, only the respondent did so. He described what he saw as a “fine spray” or a “tiny little puddle”. If he did see that water, he saw it only from his peculiar vantage point on the floor. His own evidence was that he saw it only because he was on the floor. This evidence was opposed to an inference, and no other evidence accepted by the primary judge was capable of justifying an inference, that the relevant “inconspicuous” water should have been visible upon a reasonable inspection by prison staff. On the evidence as a whole, I would hold that the respondent failed to prove his case because he failed to prove that a reasonable system of inspections probably would have detected the presence of that water before the respondent’s accident.
It was held the respondent failed to prove his case as he failed to prove a reasonable system of inspection would have detected the water on the floor prior to the incident.
This case has implications for any occupier or cleaner involved in “slip and fall” cases. In addition to evidence of the system of cleaning and inspection you also need to consider whether a person carrying out a reasonable system of inspection would have actually detected the relevant spillage. Plaintiffs and Defendants need to keep in mind whether a reasonable system of inspection would have actually detected the spill on the floor. If the spill is so inconspicuous that no reasonable person would have detected the spill then the Plaintiff has not established breach.