WRITTEN BY Ian Meagher and Zoe Zhang.
On 18 December 2018, the NSW Court of Appeal handed down a decision that will impact the way a commercial occupier’s duty of care is measured in regards to accidents that may occur on their premises.
In Bruce v Apex Software Pty Limited t/as Lark Ellen Aged Care  NSWCA 330, Mrs Bruce, a retired 70 year old, tripped outside the entrance of an aged care facility where her elderly father resided, causing her to suffer injury. The path on which she tripped was relatively standard, consisting of concrete slabs boarded by rows of red bricks. At the heart of the dispute, there was a height discrepancy of 10-20mm where the edge of the concrete met the red bricks, creating a “lip”. Predictably, Mrs Bruce tripped on the said lip.
The NSW legislation on which the Bruce case was decided is comparable to the ACT’s (and other jurisdiction’s) civil liability legislation, making the NSW Court of Appeal’s decision a cautionary tale for business owners regardless of their location. In the case of each of NSW and the ACT, the general statutory principles for the court to consider are that:
In relation to this, in Bruce, Meagher JA held:
This decision reaffirms the standard required by law for commercial occupants in conducting repairs and their due diligence in mitigating risk of injury on the premises. Specifically in this case, based on several different factors, the defendant was not liable for the injuries sustained by Mrs Bruce. Helpfully for defendants (and not so for plaintiffs), Bruce is a reminder that the presence of a risk that “could” be fixed by some forethought of the occupier does not equate to their being an obligation that the risk “must” be fixed.
All cases will, of course, turn on their own facts. Where safety risks are identified by an occupier that reasonably can be attended to without any great burden arising, taking whatever reasonable steps that are available to prevent an incident from occurring is always the preferable path to follow.
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