What is “duty of care” if you are injured?
A recent duty of care case involved a man who was walking inside The Star casino in Sydney when he slipped on liquid that had been spilled on the polished marble floor, causing him to fall to the ground. Attendants immediately called for medical assistance and he was treated before being taken to hospital by ambulance.
Following the incident, the man commenced legal proceedings in the NSW District Court, on the grounds that the casino owed him a duty of care which it had breached.
Man claims damages for alleged negligence
The man claimed in court that, as a result of the fall, he sustained multiple soft tissue injuries to his back, was unable to work and had suffered pain and suffering and economic loss, as well as needing to pay for past and future medical treatment expenses.
Casino denies negligence and denies owing duty of care
The casino denied that it was negligent, denied that the liquid on the floor gave rise to a foreseeable risk of slipping, denied that a reasonable person in its position would have taken precautions against the risk and denied that it owed the man a duty of care to take reasonable measures to avoid the risk of harm.
The casino also initially alleged that the man’s contributory negligence caused or contributed to the fall, however it later abandoned this allegation.
Court finds casino owed patron duty of care which was breached
The court found the casino owed the man a duty of care which it breached by failing to clean the spillage before he slipped in it.
In making this finding, the court found a lack of evidence of any staff cleaning rosters and noted that staff were only required to attend to clean spillages after they had occurred.
The court also found that the CCTV footage taken in the half an hour leading up to the time of the incident did now show any member of staff inspecting the floor where the man fell and further, that there was no reliable evidence to suggest that the spillage had occurred moments before the man’s fall, as had been alleged by the casino.
The court found that in circumstances where drinks were frequently being carried in a high traffic area, the casino required its staff to exercise a “vigilant supervisory function” in relation to floor areas where spillages might randomly occur.
The court awarded the man $150,144 in compensation, plus legal costs. (See Krickovic v The Star Pty Limited  NSWDC 594.)
Law requires us to take reasonable steps to avoid causing foreseeable harm to others
This case highlights what “duty of care” means in law. A longstanding common law concept, it has now been put into legislative form by the NSW Civil Liability Act 2002.
The Act requires a person to take precautions against a risk of harm that is foreseeable, not insignificant and in the circumstances, a precaution that a reasonable person in the person’s position would have taken.
Claims for a breach of duty of care can apply to personal injury, death, pre-natal injury or damage to property.
Relationship of duty of care and breach to injuries
Broadly speaking, if you slip in water on my floor, I may be in breach. But if you fall over because you’ve fainted, I’m not obliged to rush over and catch you before you hit the floor.
Different standards apply when the risk is obvious, such as in the case of dangerous recreational activities. In some cases where the injured person didn’t take care for their own safety, it can be ruled to be “contributory negligence”, in which case the amount of compensation will be reduced by the percentage by which the injured person’s own actions or inactions contributed to their injury.
The laws surrounding personal injury can be complex. Whether you’re an injured party or defendant, it’s advisable to seek legal advice from an experienced lawyer as soon as possible.