Court decision

Win for employer: School not liable for slip on grape

By Anna Hendry and Robert Tidbury / 26 July 2018

The common grape has caused more than its fair share of personal injury litigation over the years. In the recent decision of Deans v Maryborough Christian Education Foundation Ltd [2018] QDC 123 the court found that the plaintiff’s employer was not liable for her injury when she slipped on a grape while walking through the employer’s premises. Both the employer and its workers’ compensation insurer were represented by HopgoodGanim Lawyers’ Special Counsel, Anna Hendry

Facts

The plaintiff was employed as a school teacher at Riverside Christian College. On 4 March 2015, she slipped on a grape as she walked through a foyer area between classrooms, fracturing her left knee. The plaintiff alleged the grape had been dropped by a student after collecting their fruit break snack from their bag (which was stored in the foyer) and taking it to one of the adjoining classrooms. The plaintiff further alleged that the foyer was a high traffic area and that the employer ought to have had a system of inspection and cleaning in place following the fruit break due to the risk it posed of injury arising out of dropped fruit. 

At trial, the employer led evidence that the morning fruit break had been in place for five years before the incident and there had been no prior similar incidents. In addition, the employer submitted that it did have an appropriate system of work in place with respect to keeping the school clean and tidy, whereby teachers were responsible for identifying rubbish within school grounds and arranging for it to be placed in bins either by themselves, by students or by grounds staff.

Decision

The Court found:

  1. The relevant risk of harm was the “risk that an employee might sustain an injury because of slipping on a piece of fruit whilst walking through the foyer area of the classroom block at the time a fruit break was occurring”.
  2. The risk was not foreseeable and in particular:
    1. there was no evidence that, in the previous five years a fruit break had been conducted before the incident, that fruit had been dropped and been allowed to remain on the floor or that there had been a previous similar incident;
    2. there was no evidence that the children were inadequately supervised during fruit break; and
    3. there was no evidence of problems with fruit break at other schools or the public notoriety of such problems.
  3. The risk was insignificant having regard to the thousands of people who had traversed the foyer during the fruit break in the five years before the incident and the lack of any prior similar incidents.
  4. The employer did not breach its duty of care to the plaintiff and in particular:
    1. the employer’s system of instructing the teachers to make sure the school in general was clean and tidy was reasonable in the circumstances;
    2. there was no requirement to provide the plaintiff with supervision and any failure to supervise was not causative of the incident;
    3. there was no requirement to provide specific warnings or instructions regarding the task being completed by the plaintiff; and
    4. even if someone had been engaged to inspect the area immediately after the fruit break was collected (which the court found was not required), it is not likely that a single grape would have been detected.
  5. It would not have been reasonable for the employer to abolish the fruit break due to its benefits to students in providing them with a healthy snack between breakfast and morning tea. 

Moving forward

This decision is a timely reminder than an employer’s duty of care requires the employer to take reasonable steps for the safety of its workers. In particular, the employer is not an insurer of its employees against danger, nor is the employer required to take every conceivable measure to avoid a risk of injury. 

Educational facilities and supermarket retailers, for whom “grape claims” are prevalent will be reassured by this judgment which held that it was not reasonable for the defendant to be required to inspect the foyer before the incident occurred given that the fruit break was still occurring and a large number of people remained in the area. Retailers in particular can take comfort from the trial judge's observation that even if the defendant had engaged a person to inspect the area straight after the students collected their fruit, it was improbable that a solitary grape on the floor would have been detected. 

For more information or discussion, please contact HopgoodGanim Lawyers’ Insurance team. 

Authors
Anna Hendry
Partner
Anna is a Partner who advises exclusively in insurance litigation, acting on behalf of major public liability insurers, workers’ compensation insurers and self-insurers, compulsory third party insurers and professional indemnity insurers.
Robert Tidbury
Partner
Robert is the lead Partner and head of HopgoodGanim Lawyers’ Insurance practice.
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