Case Law Analysis: Strong V Woolworths Ltd 2012 Hca 5

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Case Law Analysis: Strong v Woolworths Ltd [2012] HCA 5

Case Law Analysis: Strong v Woolworths Ltd [2012] HCA 5


On 7 March 2012 the High Court of Australia handed down its judgment in the matter of Strong v Woolworths Limited [2012] HCA 5, allowing an appeal in a slip and fall case and, in doing so, has revisited the law on causation. The decision addresses the evidentiary difficulties in slip and fall cases, and has potentially far-reaching consequences for insurance, public liability and personal injury law.


On 24 September 2004 the appellant was inspecting pot plants at the sidewalk sales area outside the entrance to Big W at Centro Taree Shopping Centre (the Centre). The sidewalk sales area was under the control and care of the first respondent, Woolworths Limited (Woolworths) trading as Big W. The appellant is disabled, and at the material time, walked with the aid of crutches as a consequence of having her right leg amputated above the knee. At approximately 12.30pm the appellant slipped and fell after her right crutch came into contact with a greasy chip on the floor of the sidewalk sales area.

At the time of the incident, the appellant was with her daughter and a friend, Mrs Hurst. After the appellant's fall, the appellant noticed a grease mark on the floor where her crutch had slipped, which her daughter later described as being 'as big as a hand'. Her daughter and Mrs Hurst both saw a chip on the ground.

The second respondent, CPT Manager Limited (CPT), was the owner of the Centre. CPT had a contract with a cleaning services company which required that the Centre's floors were to be free of rubbish and spillages. The contract also specified that the maximum time between cleaning inspections for common areas of the shopping mall (such as the sidewalk sales area) was 15 minutes. Ms Walker, the cleaner employed by the cleaning services company, gave evidence that the sidewalk sales area was inspected and cleaned every 20 minutes. Prior to the appellant's fall, the sidewalk sales area had last been inspected at 8.00am that morning.


The appellant initiated proceedings in the District Court of NSW against Woolworths and CPT. She particularised Woolworths' negligence as including its failure to institute and maintain an appropriate cleaning system so as to detect spillages and the like in the sidewalk sales area. Woolworths acknowledged that it did not have an appropriate system in place on the day of the incident for the periodic inspection and cleaning of the sidewalk sales area.

The primary judge stated that Woolworths, as the occupier of the sidewalk sales area, owed a duty of care to persons coming with it. The essence of his reasoning was as follows.

If other people could see [the grease mark] apart from the [appellant] after the event, then it begs a serious question as to why it was not seen by an employee of [Woolworths] in those particular circumstances, and it should have been removed either by [Woolworths] or [Woolworths] alerting a cleaner to remove ...
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