Woolies Not Responsible For Spillage in Common Area

In Woolworths Pty Ltd v Ryder the NSW Court of Appeal found that Woolworths had no duty of care to take any steps to prevent a child blowing bubbles from a small container when standing outside the Woolworths supermarket in the common area of the shopping centre.

A person had slipped on a patch of liquid deposited by the bubbles falling onto the pedestrian walking surface.

The owner or manager of the shopping centre was under a duty to take reasonable care to maintain common areas so as to minimise the risk of injury to shoppers.

But Woolworths had no such duty because:

  • it did not occupy the common area where the spillage occurred
  • it did not operate a business in that area
  • it had no exclusive control over the area and,
  • if it had any contractual rights or obligations with respect to the area, they were not identified.

Further, the Court noted that the spillage was caused by the careless act of a child. The child was at all relevant times in the care and control of her parents, not Woolworths.

Lastly, the Court noted, by way of illustration, that if every owner of a food outlet, adjacent to a common area which it did not occupy, was under a duty to take reasonable care to obviate the potential hazard of a customer spilling food or drink in the common area, for example by warning them not to drop the food or drink, the burden would potentially be very great.

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