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September 26, 2016
On 22 July 2009 Ms Susan Young, a 52 year old woman, was shopping at an Aldi Supermarket in New South Wales. She was shopping at the rear of the store, towards the fruit and vegetable section.
An employee of Aldi, Mr Tidmarsh, was unpacking and restocking strawberries from a ‘pallet jack’ trolley. The pallet jack was placed in a cross-aisle, which was blocking access to another aisle. Ms Young attempted to go around the pallet jack and stumbled forward and fell. She injured her back, shoulder and right knee.
Ms Young issued legal proceedings against Aldi in the District Court of New South Wales. She alleged she had not seen the pallet jack protruding from under the boxes.
Ms Young argued that Aldi had breached its duty of care to her, by placing the pallet jack down the middles of the aisle. The pallet jack was placed in such a position that it obstructed access to the cross-aisle, and failed to warn her of its presence.
Aldi denied any breach of duty. It relied on ss5F, 5G and 5H of the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW), and stated that she failed to avoid the “obvious danger”.
In the initial proceedings, the Court found in favour of Ms Young and awarded damages in the sum of $135,000. A reduction of 10% was made for contributory negligence.
However, Aldi appealed the primary judge’s findings on liability to the New South Wales Court of Appeal.
On appeal, the majority upheld the judgment of the primary judge, and stated that:
…The appellant ought reasonably to have anticipated that customers would not always be attentive to their own safety or immediately conscious of what was going on around them. They are likely to include people who are rushing, who are distracted as they move about the store or who are directing their attention to the product or products displayed around them…Such a shopper would not necessarily notice the tines of the pallet jack close to the floor….
Accordingly, the Court dismissed Aldi’s appeal as to liability, but reduced Ms Young’s damages due to an error found in allowing for a claim for future out-of pocket expenses. Ms Young was awarded $117,000.
Why this case is important
The Courts have generally had a strong expectation that individuals must exercise reasonable care for their own safety. However, this case highlights that there is a responsibility of the occupier (Aldi) to be aware of this fact, and adopt measures to prevent such incidents occurring.
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