Deans v Maryborough Christian Education Foundation Ltd [2019] QCA 75

BACKGROUND

The appellant in this case was a teacher aide at the Defendant’s school and during a recognised ‘fruit break’ slipped on a grape on the floor in the foyer area outside the classroom resulting in her fracturing her patella causing severe personal injury and economic loss.

The appeal Judges had to consider whether the respondent was negligent in the circumstances regarding food scraps lying on the floor and whether they could potentially cause harm to the appellant.

LEGAL QUESTIONS

The Court of Appeal had to be satisfied of three criteria to determine the respondent was at fault for failing to provide a safe working environment. These questions include:

  1. That the risk was foreseeable (that is, it is a risk of which the person knew or ought reasonably to have known); and
  2. The risk was not insignificant; and
  3. In the circumstances, a reasonable person in the position of the person would have taken precautions

REASONING

The appeal judges found that the relevant risk which is foreseeable involves several elements. Firstly that a child drops a piece of fruit that is not picked up, secondly that a person familiar with the fruit breaks (the appellant, a teacher aide) would fail to see the grape; that this person would slip on the grape; and that this person would be injured as a result. The Court of Appeal found this, in the circumstances was reasonably foreseeable.

The standard of care has reactive and proactive parts. The judges did not, on the second question find that the risk was not insignificant. Considering that there had been no other mentions of an individual slipping on fruit and the number of steps required for the event to occur, it was found that this risk is so low as to be insignificant and fails to meet the second threshold. 

Additionally, the judge considered the third question, and found that considering the lack of a history of ‘fruit break’ related incidents, a reasonable person would not have taken precautions in the circumstances, and that the respondent’s duty was therefore not breached.

CONCLUSION

This case demonstrates that the level required for negligence in workplace related injuries, specifically regarding slipping and falling remains high.

A clear history of there being any similar or related events in the past was a determining factor in deciding the significance and reasonable precautions.