| 07.05,12. 12:18 AM |
Shoppers ring up $100m in compensation for falls in supermarkets
May 06, 2012
SHOPPERS are claiming more than $100 million a year in personal injury payouts from supermarkets after slipping in their aisles.
At least one grocery outlet has more than $50 million worth of claims currently on its books - up 300 per cent from 2004.
Personal injury lawyers say the number of injured shoppers taking action is rising, with accidents from malfunctioning trolleys, loose rice grains and rogue grapes driving the claims.
The costly trend has forced supermarkets to erect warning signs, invest in anti-slip mats and explore new ways of storing problem foods.
Grapes pose the biggest hazard, but other problem foods include lettuce leaves, snow peas, beans and milk. An industry source said the number of claims has risen since the global downturn. "When times are tough, claims tend to go up," the source said.
Most cases are settled out of court with payouts ranging from a few hundred dollars to hundreds of thousands when ongoing medical treatment is required.
Leading personal injury law firm Slater & Gordon is dealing with about 10 cases of injured supermarket shoppers in NSW each month.
The cases include a 30-year-old woman who was awarded more than $300,000 last year after requiring a knee replacement when she became stuck under a trolley following a fall.
In two separate cases resolved last year, a woman sued after slipping on snow peas, while a man took action after breaking his wrist in a fall.
Slater & Gordon is fighting for compensation for an elderly lady who was hurt after slipping on packaging near the milk counter of a Sydney store.
The firm's senior associate, Fiona Ley, blamed poor cleaning practices and the tendency for shoppers not to look down as they gaze at the shelves.
"Some slip on fresh produce, others trip over strewn packaging, especially later in the night when the chaps are stocking shelves, and then there are incidents where a poorly maintained trolley is steered into someone else," she said.
"It comes down to whether a supermarket is investing enough in cleaning... they are inviting families in to spend hundreds of dollars, so they should be ensuring that they are safe places to do so."
An amputee on crutches was awarded $580,000 in March after suffering a spinal injury when she slipped on a greasy chip outside a Big W store in Taree in 2004.
In 2008, a woman was awarded nearly $70,000 when she hurt her knee and back after slipping on a grape at Harris Farm Markets in Pennant Hills.
Coles has faced similar suits.
Harris Farm Markets declined to comment.
A Woolworths spokeswoman said the supermarket has implemented measures to ensure stores are safe.
"We have improved the flooring to make it as non-slip as possible," she said. "There have been a range of improvements particularly in the produce, deli and milk section including the strategic placement of non-slip mats as well as additional mats on wet days.
"We've worked with suppliers on items like sugar to make the packaging more robust to limit spillage."
A Coles spokesman said it had ramped up both its instore cleaning and anti-slip mats.