Personal injuries that take place on someone else’s property due to a slippery floor, flawed surface or other dangerous conditions are also referred to as “slip and trip” injuries. They are not always someone else’s legal responsibility. Owners of businesses or property are required by law to keep their premises in as safe a condition as possible from potential hazards to the general public. At the very least, owners or managers are required to warn the public of any potential danger they have either caused, are aware of, or believe could occur. If these requirements are not met and you are injured on their property as a result of failure on their part to meet standards, you may have a legitimate claim against the owner or manager. Some examples of possible faults that might lead to a “slip and trip” injury include:

Failure to:

  • Clean up slippery surfaces
  • Demarcate hazardous areas
  • Remove obstructions from walkways
  • Light an area sufficiently
  • Repair holes and cracks in the pavement
  • Put up railings or barriers

The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) (US) published  their 2008 “Causes of Slips, Trips and Falls” pie chart.  According to their findings, the majority (55%) of slip, trip and fall related accidents was caused by the walking surface. 24% of all falls were directed caused by improper footwear and only 3% of slip, trip and fall incidents are considered fraudulent.

The following cases provide some valuable insights into the (South African) law on slippery floors:

Chartaprops 16 (Pty) Ltd and Another vs Silberman 2009 (1) SA 265 (SCA)

FACTS: The Supreme Court of Appeal heard an appeal by 2 defendants who at trial were held liable, jointly and severally, for a “slippery floor” incident. The defendants were the owner of a shopping mall where the incident occurred and the company engaged by the owner to keep the floors of the mall clean.  In its defence, the owner pleaded that it had done all that was necessary to render its premises reasonably safe for use by the public by appointing competent contractors to carry out the task of protecting the users of the mall from harm.

The court held that in our law a principal is liable for the acts of its agent where the agent is an employee, but not where the agent is an independent contractor. However, in some circumstances the duty to take care cannot be delegated and where that duty has been breached, the principal also will be liable. In such cases, the principal’s liability does not arise via the agent but because there was also a duty on the principal which he has not fulfilled. The legal position is that there is a duty not merely to take care but a duty to provide that care is taken.

In this case the court agreed with the owner of the building that by engaging a competent contractor, it had taken the necessary care to make the premises reasonably safe. There was no way in which it could have known that the contractor’s work would be defective.

Accordingly, the court upheld the owner’s appeal, but on the facts found that the contractor had been negligent and was liable to the plaintiff for the loss she had suffered.

Probst v Pick ‘n Pay Retailers (Pty) Ltd (1998) 2 All SA 186 

FACTS:  Plaintiff fell in Defendant’s shop as a result of the oil on the floor.

The court surveyed the case law on accidents caused by spillages on shop floors.  The court reasoned that where a person slips on a slippery substance on a floor the maxim res ipsa loquitor comes into operation and there is an evidentiary burden on the defendant to adduce evidence that appropriate safety measures, such as a cleaning system that involves identifying and cleaning up spillages was in operation.  If a spillage and accident occurred in a space of time in which it would be unreasonable to expect the cleaning system to have dealt with the spillage, then the defendant cannot be held to have been negligent.

The court held:

“The evidence of the Plaintiff’s fall as a result of the oil on the floor, in circumstances when she was not shown to have failed to take proper care for her own safety, justifies the inference, prima facie (as a matter of res ipsa loquitur because in the ordinary course of events, a person who is walking in supermarket and taking reasonable care for his own safety does not fall and suffer injury, and is not expected to notice an almost invisible hazard such as translucent oil on a pale coloured floor), that the accident must have been caused by a negligent failure of the defendants, or their servants or agents acting within the course and scope of their employment to perform their duty to take reasonable steps to maintain the premises in a reasonable safe condition.”

Monteoli v Woolworths (Pty) Ltd 2000 (4) SA 735

FACTS:  The Plaintiff slipped on a bean in Defendant’s store.  In this case it was held that the opinion in the Probst case goes too far.

It was held:

“It is my understanding of the law that the maxin res ipsa loquitor only comes into operation when an inference is at least suggested from the evidence procured… my view the mere fact that there were three green beans (upon one of which the Plaintiff stood and slipped) in close proximity to a large brick pillar at the entrance of the defendant’s food hall does not, in itself, create the inference of negligence on the part of the defendant……it seems to me in the context of a supermarket or something similar, before the presence of produce such as green beans on the floor can give rise to an inference of negligence, there must be some evidence of either a direct or circumstantial nature that the defendant at the time of the accident:

i) Should have taken steps to prevent the presence of beans on the floor from occurring

ii) Knew; or

iii) Ought to have been aware of their presence; and

iv) Failed to take reasonable steps to remove the offending items forthwith”

The defendant led evidence that there was an adequate cleaning system in place, but no evidence that was it was actually working at the time of the accident.  It was held:

“Where a defendant credibly gives evidence to the effect that it cannot take the matter further, then it seems to me that no inference adverse to it can be drawn.  There was no evidence remotely to suggest that the cleaning system failed on the day in question”.

Therefore, if the owner of the slippery floor either knew or ought to have known of the presence of a spillage on the floor, they ought to have taken steps to dry it or erect a warning sign, as it was reasonably forseeable that a visitor (or resident of a block of flats) would slip and injure themselves.  The fact that it is normal procedure to clean or scrub down a floor does not relieve them of their obligation to warn people of the danger.  However, if the owner could not reasonably have been aware of the slippery floor, they can not be held liable.

If you have suffered a “slip and trip” injury as a result of someone else’s fault, there are a few things to bear in mind:

Firstly, take care to find proper medical attention. If not treated promptly, even minor injuries can become major problems. Keep your medical records for your case. If you can, take photographs and write down a detailed record of names, dates, numbers and witness information, as this will increase your chances of receiving adequate compensation. Report the incident at the relevant authority. Except for the relevant authority, refrain from discussing your case with anyone other than your personal injury attorney. Don’t sign any documents relating to the accident under any circumstances unless you have discussed it with your personal injury attorney first.

So folks, watch out for those slippery floors!