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Legal case

Weightmans secures trial win for one of the UK’s largest retailers

This was an important case in reiterating the principles established in Ward v Tesco

A major high street retailer and Weightmans have successfully defended a claim made following a slipping accident. 

The claimant brought a claim for personal injury as a result of slipping on a clothes hanger in the defendant’s Burnley store on 10 July 2020.

The defendant accepted that unfortunately the claimant had had an accident in store but defended the claim on the basis it had a reasonable system of inspection and cleaning in place and that the clothes hanger appeared so proximate in time to the accident that the defendant was unable to prevent the claimant slipping on it.

The claim was brought under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957 and/or in negligence. It was confirmed by the court that Ward v Tesco remains the lead authority in retail claims.

The defendant’s reasonable system incorporated:

  • Risk assessments which identified the relevant hazards and the countermeasures in place
  • Training – induction and refresher training, supported by training materials and training records, which included identification of slip and trip hazards and the steps staff should take
  • Zero tolerance policy in respect of items on the shop floor
  • Regular checks by staff — constantly patrolling the store throughout opening hours, supported by witness evidence from those staff

The defendant relied upon witness evidence from three members of staff working in the store on the day, confirming that the relevant area had been checked in furtherance of the inspection system just prior to the accident. They were also able to adduce CCTV evidence showing the general state of the shop floor was tidy, which the court accepted.

The court was satisfied the risk assessment identified the risks, confirmed the procedures in place and that the staff were adequately trained in respect of the need to check for hazards. Therefore, it was found that there was an effective system in place on the day and the claim was dismissed.

The court rejected the claimant’s argument that all the regular checks of the accident location should be documented, with the judge questioning whether such a high duty threshold was necessary or even practicable in a busy high street retail store such as the defendant’s. The court could not see how a written record of coat hangers being on the floor would assist on the issue of risk.

This was an important case in reiterating the principles established in Ward v Tesco. The court made a common-sense decision given that high footfall means one can never prevent stock, or items brought into the shop by customers, being dropped onto a shop floor. Therefore, there is always a potential risk of injury. However, it is incumbent on customers to look where they’re going. In addition, provided retailers can evidence they have identified this risk and have put in place a regular system of inspection and cleaning, then they have complied with their legal obligations.

Weightmans has longstanding expertise in successfully defending personal injury claims against retailers and advising them on their systems and processes. If you would like further information, please speak to us.

For expert legal guidance and support for retailers, contact our retail solicitors.

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