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THE NEGLIGENT STORE OWNER

Imagine, if you will, the following scenario. A customer enters a departmental store or supermarket to do his shopping and browses around the store. He is concentrating intensely on the merchandise displayed on the shelves as he pushes his trolley from isle to isle. He fails to notice that the floor in a particular spot is shiny as liquid has spilt thereon. As he walks through the spot with the shiny liquid and failing to notice that this portion of the floor is more slippery then usual, he slips trips falls and injures himself seriously. Is the shopkeeper liable for the damages suffered by the customer?

This very question was considered by our High Court in tow recent cases.

The first case was


 Probst v Pick ’n Pay Retailers (Pty) Ltd [1998] 2 All SA 186 (W) (at 200f).

Here the presiding Judge Stegmann J ruled that it is the duty of the keeper of a supermarket to take reasonable steps which are not too onerous so as to require that every spillage had to be discovered and cleaned up as soon as it occurred. This duty did require the introduction and implementation of a system to ensure that spillages were not allowed to create potential hazards for any material length of time. The learned Judge ruled that they would be discovered, so that the floor could be made safe with reasonably promptly.

The principles of this decision were considered and applied in

 Lindsay v Checkers Supermarket 2008 (4) SA 634 (N).

In this case the Plaintiff, L, claimed damages from the defendant, C, for bodily injuries she suffered when she slipped on an oily substance on the floor of the defendant’s supermarket. The defendant denied liability. It alleged that it had taken all reasonable steps to ensure that any spillage that might occur in the supermarket was made safe and dealt with reasonably promptly. The cleaning system it employed and implemented entailed there being one cleaner on duty in the supermarket that covered an area of some 15 000 square metres and had 22 aisles. If a spillage occurred in an area in which the cleaner was not present, one of the six staff members on duty in the Store was expected to page the cleaner to attend to it
.
After hearing evidence on the issue of liability the presiding Judge Van der Reyden J held that the plaintiff’s claim had to succeed. The Leaned Judge ruled that the shopkeepers owed a duty to persons entering their shops during trading hours to take reasonable steps to ensure that, at all times during trading hours, the floor was kept in a condition that was reasonably safe for shopkeepers, bearing in mind that they would spend much of their time in the shop with their attention focused on goods displayed on the shelves, or in their trolleys, and not looking at the floor to ensure that every step they took was safe.

The effect of these decisions is that in applying the test described above the Court must hear the surrounding circumstances of the case before it and then base its judgment on whether the shopkeeper has discharged the duty of care towards his customers.

These two cases only dealt with the issue of liability. The amount of damages which will be awarded to the customer depends on the nature and severity of the injuries sustained by the customer as a result of the fall. Thus, if you or a member of your family has been injured in such circumstances please consult your Attorney it is the prudent course to follow.

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