The failure by a council to provide umbrella bagging facilities and coat storage has cost it almost $300,000 in damages, after a mother slipped and broke her ankle on a wet floor while attending her daughter’s dance eisteddfod.
Christina Safar, 43, heard a snapping sound as her right foot slid out from under her as she attempted to traverse the timber floor at the Sutherland Entertainment Centre on a wet winter’s day in 2013.
Her fall triggered a long-running legal dispute, in which she sued the centre’s management, the Sutherland Shire Council, for negligence.
More than four years after the accident, the case reached the NSW Court of Appeal last week, where three justices upheld Ms Safar’s claim to $288,820 in damages awarded to her by the District Court.
The case centred on what “reasonable precautions” the council should have taken to ensure the floor was safe given the inclement weather.
The court heard about 200 people had walked through the centre’s carpeted foyer and nearby timber parquetry floor area before taking their seats in the auditorium on June 23, 2013.
But despite the rainy conditions, the council provided only a single unmarked garbage bin for umbrellas and no facilities for patrons to store wet raincoats.
Justice Robert MacFarlan held it was “obvious that the day was very wet and that water was being brought into the auditorium on wet umbrellas and coats”.
Justice Richard White found the council’s duty to take “reasonable precautions” required “not merely the supply of a bin or other receptacle for umbrellas, accompanied by a sign encouraging people to place their umbrellas in the receptacle”.
“Even had a bin or multiple bins been provided at the entrance to the auditorium, that would not have been a sufficient precaution,” Justice White said.
The justices agreed the council should have provided umbrella storage and bagging facilities accompanied by signs encouraging entrants to the auditorium to bag their wet umbrellas. Similarly, the court held the council should have provided storage facilities for wet clothes, such as raincoats and bags.
Ms Safar had been seated inside the auditorium to watch her eight-year-old daughter perform in the dance eisteddfod. But, during an intermission she exited the hall and slipped and fell on the parquetry floor next to the foyer.
Despite surgery to correct the ankle fracture, Ms Safar has “significant lasting disabilities”, including ongoing pain and difficulty with walking on certain surfaces.
“In my opinion it is more probable than not that the water upon which Ms Safar slipped would not have been deposited inside the auditorium if the relevant precautions had been taken,” Justice Ian Harrison said.
The council was aware the centre had a history of previous falls, according to evidence before the court.
Council records revealed there had been four occasions between 2010 and 2011 where visitors to the centre had slipped and been injured.
One incident in which a woman injured her hamstring after slipping on the floor was recorded in the council’s register with the description: “Walking across floor to put wet umbrellas in corner. Slipped on floor.”
Justice White found that these records “plainly should have highlighted to the council the need to take precautions against the risk of persons being injured by slipping on the parquetry flooring when weather was wet.”
The district court found Ms Safar’s injuries were partially caused by her own negligence because she failed to “keep a proper lookout for her own safety” despite there being an “obvious risk”.
As a result, the court reduced her damages by 20 per cent. She did not challenge this fact during the appeal.