An interesting thing happened the other day. We won a court case. To be honest I wasn’t surprised. This was one of those ’slips, trips and falls’ claims beloved of those wonderful, ambulance-chasing solicitors.
The case had taken nearly three years to come court and it seemed inconceivable to me that the claimant had any chance of winning. She claimed she had fallen walking across the forecourt, but none of our CCTV cameras could find any evidence of her mishap. She then came into the shop and my manageress escorted her back to the pumps to be shown the spot where she had slipped. Except that there was nothing there!
After paying for her fuel the woman, despite supposedly having a badly injured wrist, then climbed through the passenger side of her car to get behind the steering wheel. She had to do that because she had parked so close to the pumps it was nearly impossible to open the driver’s door wide enough to get in that side.
She then produced a witness (who happened to be her next-but-one door neighbour) whose statement claimed that he saw everything while standing in the shop. Even though our CCTV couldn’t find him in the shop at the time!
And then the place she said she fell was different in her initial claim from that in her final statement - and both places were different from where the witness said he had seen her fall.
As I said, I wasn’t surprised to win. But the judge’s written summary made interesting reading. Having made mincemeat of the witness, calling him unreliable in the extreme, he then addressed the issue of whether the claimant had fallen. Almost working backwards from the conclusion he had made that the claimant was an honest person, he concluded that she had indeed fallen on our forecourt.
There was no recorded image of this because it must have taken place either in a blind spot of our camera coverage or during a six-second delay in the cameras’ recording.
Finally, the fact that she didn’t know where she had fallen, and that the spot that she took our manageress to was devoid of any spillage, was entirely understandable as the woman was obviously in shock at the time!
Having turned commonsense on its head, the judge decided, reluctantly, that he couldn’t find in the claimant’s favour because she had not established what she had slipped on.
She had claimed in her statements that it was diesel (even though we had no diesel at the pump she was at) and then, when that was pointed out, suggested it must have been either petrol or oil. The judge pointed out that, as it had been raining that day, if she only slipped because the forecourt was wet then that wasn’t our fault (although I’m surprised he didn’t decide we were negligent in not providing an adequate system to ensure that the area under the canopy stayed bone dry). And as she couldn’t prove the cause of her mishap, her case must fail.
So, despite some hairy, twisted, logic that was all right then. Well, no. The judge then launched into a lengthy diatribe about how inadequate our cleaning system was. Yes, he accepted that the forecourt had been properly cleaned that morning. And yes, he accepted that we had notices displayed asking customers to report any spillages.
But that, as far as he was concerned, was totally inadequate. From his viewpoint, the minimum acceptable regime was that an employee should have gone out and inspected the forecourt at least once every hour while the premises were open for business.
The implications of that ruling for every single-manned site in the country just don’t bear thinking about!
I would be interested to know how the unmanned Asda sites operate!