Liability and Causation in Slip and Falls
Sometimes portrayed in funny videos, slip and falls are sometimes seen as comical and amusing. However, it is a very dangerous, common incident than can affect someone for the rest of his/her life.
Common places or situations in which slip and falls can occur include stairwells, icy embankments, a wet floor, a chipped tile in a store; but what happens when it is a place where a clean and safe floor is a fundamental requirement?
Such was the question addressed in the case of Souliere v. Casino Niagara.
A patron, namely Lori Souliere was dining at a buffet style restaurant when she unfortunately slipped and fell. An agreement for damages was reached but the issue of liability was not agreed upon. The Judge now had to make a ruling on two key related factors - was the standard of care breached and did it cause the plaintiff to suffer the fall?
The Judge examined the policy of the restaurant when it came to spillage and cleanliness.
- Any spillage of food was supposed to be cleaned up by staff as soon as possible, and "wet floor" signs were to be put in its place if the floor could not be cleaned up quickly.
- The responsibility of spotting and cleaning up of spills as soon as possible belonged to the bussers, hostesses, line cooks and supervisors." This however is not their only responsibility.
On the night in question, the plaintiff arrived at the restaurant with her uncle and they proceeded to serve themselves, and then sit to eat at one of the booths in the dining area. When they were done, they proceeded to leave, and walked towards the exit. This is when Lori Souliere's foot came into contact with a grease like substance on the floor and she unfortunately slipped and fell hard to the floor.
The cashier who was not far from where the incident happened claimed to witness the entire incident. She testified under oath that shortly before the plaintiff fell, she observed a man passing in the same area, who spilled a brown substance on the floor. It wasn't five seconds after that the plaintiff passed in the same spot/area and suffered her accident.
The Judge accepted this part of her testimony because he found her to be credible and consistent with her story. The plaintiff however, had some parts of the events skewed. She thought she noticed two cashiers when there was only one, and she did not believe that the cashier witnessed her fall at all.
Had the restaurant done all that was necessary to ensure the safety of its patrons? The plaintiff did not think that they did. She cited previous cases where it was ruled as negligent on the business owner's part (grocery stores in particular).
Her argument was that the existing policy was insufficiently capable of ensuring the safety of the patrons. The Judge found that for this specific restaurant which was small but fully staffed, they met the standard of care that is required from the Occupier's Liability Act.
The suggestions and accusations made by the plaintiff concerning having a single person responsible for spotting and cleaning up spills and the absence of non-slip mats in the general area of the food stations were seen as disputable when applied to this business in particular, which had effective measures already in place. Therefore, the business was not liable. The Judge also found that the restaurant was not responsible for her actual fall either.
Since the time between the substance falling on the floor and the plaintiff's fall are mere seconds apart, it is quite unreasonable to say that a single person hired for that purpose would have spotted and been able to clean it up before she stepped in it.
The standard of care here was deemed not breached and the plaintiff's case was dismissed.
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