Emil Ford Lawyers

Shopping Centre Cleaning Practices


What to do when the chips are down

The following case has some tricky implications for shopping centres.


Woolworths was the tenant in a shopping centre and had a right to use part of the adjoining common area for a "sidewalk sale". Although the lease only required Woolworths to clean the common area at the end of a sidewalk sale, the court said that they were obliged to keep the area clean during its use of the area. The inevitable happened and 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 said that, taking into consideration the following facts, Woolworths was not liable.

  1. The lady slipped on a chip near a foodcourt at lunchtime.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


In this case, Woolworths was very lucky to avoid liability. The unusual facts of the case should not make shopping centre owners and managers complacent about their cleaning obligations. 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.


For further information about how this case could affect your business contact  


Please note that this newsletter does not contain legal advice. You should always obtain your own legal advice based on the particular circumstances of your case.

© Emil Ford Lawyers
A member of the Southern Cross Legal Alliance with associated firms in
Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth, Auckland & Christchurch.
Liability limited by a scheme approved under Professional Standards Legislation.

Suite 4 Level 5
580 George Street
Sydney NSW 2000
Phone: +61 2 9267 9800
Fax: +61 2 9283 2553