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Plaintiff unsuccessful in proving liability for slip on a grape

Deans v Maryborough Christian Education Foundation Ltd [2018] QDC 123

Farr SC DCJ

25 July 2018

Background

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. She fractured her left patella.

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.

Liability

The plaintiff alleged that the risk of injury as a result of dropped fruit during the fruit break was a foreseeable risk which was not insignificant.

The plaintiff also alleged that the employer breached its duty of care by failing to, amongst other things, have in place a system of inspection and cleaning of the foyer during the fruit break.

Judgement / Findings

The Judge 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 five years fruit breaks had been conducted before the incident that fruit had been dropped and been allowed to remain on the floor or that a previous similar incident had occurred;
    2. There was no evidence that the children were inadequately supervised during fruit break;
    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 a 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;
    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 probable 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.

Discussion / Implications

In this case, the plaintiff was unable to prove that this risk was foreseeable, that it was not insignificant or that the employer had breached its duty of care.