19 April 2023
Ms Wade (the respondent) was visiting the Après Lounge Limited’s (the appellant) bar in Leicester when, in the early hours of the morning, she slipped on what was thought to be a spilt drink near to the bar counter. She brought her claim both in negligence and for breach of the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957. It was accepted that the respondent had slipped in this manner and that consequently there was a case of negligence because such premises should not have spilt drinks on their floors.
Initially the judge accepted the evidence of Ms Wades’ representatives that there had been three staff on duty that evening operating a system of monitoring, including looking for spillages, every 10-15 minutes. However, the judge deemed Après Lounge Limited to be liable on the basis that, in his opinion, a system of checks every 10-15 minutes was not sufficient to discharge the Occupier’s duty under the 1957 Act.
His reasoning was that:
- The risk of spillages was likely in a busy area of the venue
- The floor was likely to be slippery when wet
- There was no evidence as to how long the spillage had been in situ
- No evidence was taken from those undertaking the monitoring
- These checks were not documented
Apres Lounges appealed on the grounds that;
- The judge was wrong in law to find that checks every 10-15 minutes were not sufficient to satisfy the duty of care
- The judge imposed an unreasonably high burden on them
- The judge failed to indicate what system they ought to have operated
- It was unreasonable for the judge to find that the system in operation was insufficient, particularly when it was not Ms Wades case that more frequent inspections were required
Mr Justice Knowles, on appeal, accepted that Apres Lounges’ systems were sufficiently proactive and, having regard to the realities of running a late-night bar, the system of floor inspections by several members of staff as described was sufficient to fulfil their statutory duty.
Mr Justice Knowles found that the trial judge imposed too high a standard amounting to a counsel of perfection which in effect would have required the appellant to operate a system of continuous surveillance and monitoring, requiring many more members of staff to monitor every patch of floor in the premises, so that no spilt drink could ever be present on the floor at all. To do so would be impractical and unreasonable.
What does this ruling mean for operators of hospitality venues?
There are a number of key themes that hospitality venue operators should consider as a result of this verdict:
- It is possible to mount a successful defence of, and win at trial, claims of this type, and thus protect your claims record with your insurers.
- You must be able to evidence a proactive and well-resourced process of frequent checks for spillages throughout opening hours.
- In the event of an incident, it is essential to have staff who have been trained to follow a structured accident investigation process which would include witness statements and photographic evidence.
If you think your business has an exposure to this type of incident and you would like help constructing a documented risk assessment process or accident investigation training for your team then please get in touch with our specialists, we’d be delighted to help you.