The plaintiff slipped in an auditorium on rain water and successfully claimed that the council occupier should have taken precautions to stop the floor from becoming wet and slippery.

In Issue

  • The precautions required to be taken to prevent a parquetry floor from becoming slippery.
  • Whether the risk of slipping was an obvious risk.

The Background

On 23 June 2013, the plaintiff (Ms Safar) was at the Sutherland Entertainment Centre to watch her daughter dance in an Eisteddfod. It was a rainy day and there were at least 200 patrons at the performance. During the interval when she was walking out of the auditorium, she slipped on the parquetry floor and sustained injuries.

Ms Safar alleged that the Council, as occupier of the premises, breached its duty to her. It should have taken further steps to eliminate or minimise the risk that existed because of the water that had been deposited on the floor by patrons, making it slippery.

It was accepted by the Council that the water on the floor posed a foreseeable slipping risk and that there had been previous slips on the parquetry floor. On the day, one unmarked “umbrella bin” had been placed by the main entrance to the Centre (not the auditorium itself) and there were carpeted areas between the main entrance and the auditorium for “soaking up water” from shoes.

The Council argued that the further precautions pleaded were not reasonable and alternatively that none of them would have necessarily prevented Ms Safar’s slip.

The Decision at Trial

The trial judge found for the plaintiff and held that a number of precautions should have been taken by the Council, including providing appropriately located bins and a bagging system for umbrellas, a cloak room for storage of wet items, absorbent mats and an usher to mop up the water. He also found that the risk of slipping was an obvious risk and that there was no duty to warn owed by the Council.

The Issues on Appeal

The Council appealed the decision on the basis that the trial judge erred in finding that the Council should have taken the further precautions and whether the injury was caused by the breach of duty on failing to take them. The plaintiff filed a notice of contention challenging the trial judge’s finding that the risk causing injury was obvious.

The Decision on Appeal

The Court of Appeal unanimously dismissed the Council’s appeal, despite disagreeing on some of the precautions held necessary by the trial judge to prevent the harm.

All judges held that there should have been more appropriately located umbrella bins and umbrella wrapping/bagging available. The majority also held that the council should have made a cloakroom or wet items hanging area available and insisted that the patrons not take wet items into the auditorium.

In relation to obvious risk, Harrison J held that a reasonable person in the position of the plaintiff should have been aware that on a rainy day the floor was likely to be slippery. McFarlane J dissented while White J found it unnecessary to decide the issue.

Implications for you

When something is a known risk due to previous incidents and the occupier can protect against this risk with “inexpensive simplicity” a duty of care will be imposed to take the necessary precautions.