Shopper awarded $755,549.25 after supermarket slip
In Harrison v. Loblaws, Inc. (Real Canadian Superstore), 2018 BCSC 575, the plaintiff, Lori Lee Harrison (“Ms. Harrison”) was awarded $755,549.25 after supermarket slip. Ms. Harrison made her claim under the Occupiers Liability Act, R.S.B.C. 1996, c. 337 (“OLA”) . She was injured in an accident that happened on March 25, 2012, at Real Canadian Superstore located in North Vancouver (the “Superstore”).
The events leading up to the supermarket slip were not in dispute. Ms. Harrison walked into the Superstore with her son Chris. Chris’s phone rang and Ms. Harrison instructed him to answer his phone and to meet her in the first aisle. Ms. Harrison then continued walking towards the first aisle, where she intended to buy a Kinder Surprise chocolate treat for her nephew. As she neared the first aisle, she unknowingly stepped in a large pool of liquid laundry detergent (6 feet in diameter) and started to slide towards the end cap of aisle number one, a display at the end of a row of shelving at the entrance of an aisle.
Ms. Harrison extended her hands in a manner akin to what one does when surfing as she started to slide towards the end cap. She struck the end cap on her left eyebrow. She fell backward and hit her head on the floor causing her to moan and bleed profusely. Witnesses confirmed that Ms. Harrison had slipped on a large pool of laundry detergent. The totality of the evidence was clear: Ms. Harrison slipped on a large pool of liquid laundry detergent, hit her forehead on the end cap of aisle one, and subsequently fell backwards and hit the back left of her head on the floor of the Superstore.
As a result of the fall, Ms. Harrison developed symptoms consistent with post-traumatic brain injury syndromes or post-concussion syndromes. The symptoms included headaches, dizziness, decrease in balance, nausea, decreased memory, decreased concentration, decreased attention span, irritability, mood swings, anger, outburst, decreased self-esteem, decreased self-confidence, and sleep disturbance patterns. Ms. Harrison no longer took pride in her appearance, has gained between 80 and 100 pounds, and no longer socialized to the extent that she once did.
The inspection and cleaning program at the Superstore consisted of three elements. First, every employee of the Superstore was charged with the responsibility of looking for hazards while they were carrying out their duties. Another element of this inspection and cleaning program was the hourly mandatory inspection of floors and the recording of these inspections in a sweep log. The third element of this program was the general cleaning and tidying of the Superstore by the general services department. Employees in this department are charged with the responsibility of breaking down cardboard boxes throughout the Superstore and responding to requests for cleanups wherever spills occur throughout the Superstore.
The sweep log for the grocery area where the slip occurred was not produced at trial by the defendant. A Customer Incident Report was completed with respect to Ms. Harrison’s accident however the Superstore employee failed to adhere to a significant number of the steps set out in the policy for incidents involving customer accidents. For example, the policy required management to forward an original Customer Incident Report to the claims department the day of the accident supported by a copy of the relevant sweep log, photographs, the department staff schedule at the time of the incident, and a drawing of the accident scene as detailed in the policy.
The Court held: (1) Ms. Harrison has established a prima facie case. It is uncontradicted that she slipped on a large pool of liquid laundry detergent in the Superstore and sustained a head injury as a result; (2) Superstore had a reasonable inspection and maintenance system in place. The sweep log procedure and the maintenance of sweep logs for various departments of the Superstore, are in principle, a reasonable system of inspection and maintenance; and (3) There was insufficient evidence adduced at trial to find that the defendant was adhering to their system of inspection and maintenance on the day of Ms. Harrison’s accident. Although a sweep log was adduced in evidence at the hearing, it was only in respect of the “front end area”. Although there was another sweep log that was maintained with respect to the grocery department, it was not part of the evidence at trial. In the absence of the sweep log for the grocery area, and given the uncertain boundaries of the front end area in relation to the grocery area, there is no evidence before the Court to establish that the area where the accident took place had been inspected on the day of the accident.
 While I applaud the Superstore’s motto “Don’t pass it up, pick it up”, that step alone is insufficient to meet the requirements of the OLA. A system of inspection as set out in the defendant’s sweep log procedure, and evidence that it was being implemented at the time of the accident, is required in order to rebut the prima facie case established by Ms. Harrison. This sweep log procedure was maintained in binders in each of the managers’ offices. There is no evidence that Ms. Chisholm or any other employee was trained with respect to this procedure, nor was there any evidence as to the extent of time that she devoted to her inspection. It is also unclear whether the time noted on the sweep log by Ms. Chisholm was the time when she purportedly conducted the inspection, or the time when she was making the notation on the sweep log. In any event, as described earlier, it is unclear whether this particular sweep log covered the area where Ms. Harrison’s accident took place.
 Having carefully reviewed all of the evidence presented by Ms. Kropf, Mr. Kukreja, Mr. Wilson, Ms. Biemans, as well as Ms. Harrison, her son Chris, Ms. Elliott and Ms. Barnes, I find that Superstore has not established that they were following a system of inspection and maintenance on the day of Ms. Harrison’s accident in the area where the accident occurred. On this basis, I find Superstore liable for Ms. Harrison’s injuries.
The Supreme Court of British Columbia awarded her $755,549.25 in total damages consisting of damages for pain and suffering ($175,000.00), past income loss ($195,000.00), loss of future capacity ($375,000.00), cost of future care ($4,100.00), and special damages ($6,449.25).