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May 25, 2011

The Slip & Fall: Who’s to Blame?

An elderly woman is shopping at a Real Canadian Superstore with her daughter. She turns left to pass a display pallet of dishwasher detergent. She catches her foot on the corner of the pallet and falls. She breaks her hip and faces a long and challenging recovery.

Who is to blame?

BC Supreme Court Case Etson v. Loblaw Companies Limited gives us an answer.

In this case, the Superstore is negligent because they allow a dangerous obstacle to get in the path of its customers. Specifically, the judge explains that customers must be provided with a reasonable standard of care. Since the pallet has a slightly protruding board, and because the product is not properly stacked, the judge finds the Superstore liable for breaching its “duty of care” to shoppers.

However, the judge also finds that the plaintiff is negligent because she does not take reasonable care for her own safety. She says Ms. Etson could have made more of an effort to watch her footing carefully.

Fault is assessed equally between the parties with 50% of damages awarded to Ms. Etson.

So what can we learn from this particular slip and fall incident? First and foremost, that we all need to take care when manoeuvring around a busy store. If, however, you are unfortunate enough to be a part of slip and fall incident, you’ll want to take note of your surroundings. Cluttered aisles, unsecured displays, and unmarked slippery floors can represent negligence by a store operator. Just remember, the expectation is one of reasonableness – not perfection.