In the matter of Damien Jedruch v Tesco Ireland Limited a Tesco worker who slipped on a wet floor in a warehouse toilet fracturing his right elbow and wrist was awarded €65,000 by the High Court.
The Plaintiff alleged that having used a wash hand basin in the course of his employment at the Defendant's premises on 21st April 2015, he was turning to his left to dry his hands when his right foot slipped backwards on a tiled floor surface, causing him to fall forward. He alleged that his hands slid forward across the tiled floor, until his right hand came to a halt on an AJ cover, the tiled surface of which had been broken. He suffered fractures to his right elbow and wrist.
The Plaintiff claimed that the Defendant was negligent in three aspects;
- That there was a failure to maintain the area in safe and proper condition, in particular, due to the fact that there was a large accumulation of water and dirt on the floor surface;
- That the tiles used in the toilet were unsafe and dangerous for use in such an area; and
- That the floor area was unsafe due to the presence of the broken AJ cover.
Mr. Justice Barr held that the Defendant was negligent in failing to repair or replace the broken tile on the AJ cover and awarded general damages of €45,000 to the Plaintiff along with the special damages of €20,000.
In finding for the Plaintiff, Mr Justice Barr said that the use of smooth ceramic tiles in a toilet which was used by a large number of employees was unsafe and dangerous given the high risk of slipping on the tiles when wet. In particular, he pointed to the fact that 300 employees worked in the warehouse and, had Tesco taken reasonable care for the safety of its employees, it would have used slip-resistant or non-slip tiles in the toilet area. In his assessment,
“While the owners of a hotel may not like using such tiles in a bathroom because it is harder to clean them and keep them looking well, such considerations do not apply in a factory or warehouse,”
As far as Mr Justice Barr was concerned there was little dispute that there was considerable water and dirt in the form of boot marks on the toilet floor surface. He was also satisfied the cleaner on the morning of the accident did mop down the toilet area but had removed the cleaning sign from the doorway when the floor was still wet.
Following this decision, the use of ceramic tiles in public areas will now potentially create an exposure in both an employer's liability and public liability context. Where an area is frequented by a large amount of people, it follows that a court will expect that a Defendant has installed a non-slip surface.
This will undoubtedly cause concerns to a number of businesses such as retail outlets, restaurants and hotels where ceramic tiles are currently used on the floors of bathrooms and kitchen spaces. In this context businesses must be encouraged to be vigilant and alive to opportunistic claims arising on foot of this judgment. We would advise that CCTV footage is installed in a positon that does not compromise anyone's privacy where possible and that regular cleaning records are maintained in areas where ceramic tiles are situated.
Finally, this case demonstrates the critical importance for businesses to have good cleaning systems in place. Where cleaning is/has taken place, the relevant area should always be sufficiently marked out and/or cordoned off to ensure that employees or the general public cannot access it and are sufficiently warned of its potentially hazardous nature.