Spillage Cases

Slip and fall

A client asked if she could sue the supermarket when she slipped on a wet floor and injured herself.

Our case law has often dealt with so-called “slip and fall” or “spillage” matters where an injured party sues the owner or tenant of premises for monetary compensation for injuries suffered. 

The following is the legal position:

  • A spillage case typically occurs when a visitor to a mall, supermarket or other public place slips on a liquid lying on a floor. The fall causes the visitor to sustain injuries, which results in a claim for damages against the property owner or the management company managing the property or the cleaning company that cleans the property (or all three).
  • As a general principle, the defendant supermarket owner owes a duty to persons entering its supermarket during trading hours to take reasonable steps to keep the floor in a condition that is reasonably safe for shoppers.
  • A reasonable person in the position of a defendant supermarket owner should foresee and guard against the possibility of the plaintiff slipping and falling on a liquid on the supermarket floor, which causes the plaintiff to fall, injuring herself in the process.
  • If a mall owner or the managing agent engages a competent cleaning company to ensure that the floors remain safe and have no means of knowing that the work of the independent cleaning company is defective, the owner or agent should not be held liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
  • In a twist, in the latest spillage case, in Holtzhausen v Cenprop Real Estate (Pty) Ltd and Another [2021] 2 All SA 457 (WCC), the court had to decide on different facts where rainwater brought into the mall by visitors on the day in question was not a “spillage”. Therefore this was not a “spillage” case. The court did not have to pronounce on the adequacy of the cleaning company’s cleaning system or the failure by the cleaning company to mop up the water. The court held that the fault could only lie with the owner and the manager of the mall (the two defendants in the matter).  The defendants had a legal duty to take reasonable steps to ensure that the mall floors remained safe to users. They could have done this by contracting the cleaning company to dry the sections of the floor that became wet when it rained or to close the entrances exposed to the rain every time it rained. As they didn’t take either step,  the defendants were negligent and were liable to the plaintiff for her damages.

As a precaution and to avoid any doubt, injured parties should sue not only the party immediately responsible for the wrong (e.g. the cleaning company) but also the owner or manager who may only have been indirectly responsible for the wrong.

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