Emil Ford Lawyers

Shopping Centre Cleaning Practices - Part 2

What to do when the chips are down

(Part 2)

The High Court has overruled the chip case, where the NSW Court of Appeal had decided that Woolworths was not liable for injuries suffered by a customer when she slipped on a chip in a food court.


Woolworths was the tenant in a shopping centre and had a right to use part of the adjoining common area for a "sidewalk sale". A lady on crutches fell when her crutch slipped on a chip on the floor during a sidewalk sale. She sued the shopping centre owner and Woolworths. 

Owner's cleaning practice

The practice of the shopping centre owner was to employ one cleaner from 7:30 am to 4 pm with an additional cleaner from 11 am to 2 pm. The second cleaner's duties included looking after the food court area. Security people were employed to "walk around continuously and contact a cleaner by two-way radio if they noticed a spillage". On the day of the incident the cleaners filled out a standard form showing that the centre was checked every 20 minutes, although 15 minute inspections were required in the cleaners' contract.

Woolworths did not inspect or clean

The cleaners were not required to inspect the Woolworths sidewalk sale area as that area was regarded as being Woolworths' responsibility. Woolworths had no system in place for cleaning the sidewalk sale area and no employee was made responsible for cleanliness of that area.

The court had to decide whether Woolworths was liable for the injury to the lady.

The Court of Appeal said that, taking into consideration the following facts, Woolworths was not liable.

  • The lady slipped on a chip near a food court at lunchtime.
  • There was no basis for concluding that the chip had been on the ground for long enough for it to be detected and removed by the operation of a reasonable cleaning system.  There was no evidence about the appearance of the chip, such as it being dirty, that might indicate that it had been there for some time.
  • Even if periodical inspections and cleaning had been carried out by Woolworths at 15 min intervals (as required by the shopping centre owner in the areas that it supervised), it is possible that at lunchtime the chip fell between the last inspection and the accident. 

The High Court took a different view of the facts. It said:

  • The Court of Appeal was wrong in assuming that the chip had not been on the ground long enough to have been detected, even if Woolworths had an inspection system in place.
  • It was mere speculation by the Court of Appeal that the chip had been dropped at a particular time rather than any other time on the day of the incident. It could have been dropped at any time during the day.

There was no basis for concluding that chips are more likely to be eaten for lunch than for breakfast or as a snack during the course of the morning.


The case again demonstrates how uncertain court cases can be when they are decided on differing views of the facts.
In our report on the Court of Appeal decision we said:

A clear message from the case is that owners and managers must have procedures in place to ensure that their shopping centre is kept clean and that any risks of injury are minimised as much as possible. A cleaning schedule with short, regular intervals, especially near food courts at lunchtime, should be maintained as a bare minimum.

Concerned about how this case impacts your business?  Contact .

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