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Keoghs sets precedent with dance floor slip defence
Robinson v Bourne Leisure
In this landmark case, Keoghs’ Corporate and Sector Risks team successfully defended Butlins against a dance floor slip claim related to a spilt drink, setting a precedent for future cases.
The claimant was attending a Butlins resort for an adult-only weekend during which a number of live music acts were performing at an on-site venue close to capacity. She alleged that she slipped on a spilt drink on the dance floor, sustaining a fractured left foot.
The claim was brought against Butlins pursuant to section 2(2) of the Occupiers' Liability Act 1957 and/or in the tort of negligence.
The claim was defended up to trial and heard by HHJ Cooke in the Birmingham County Court.
We have acted for Butlins on numerous claims of this nature, which has resulted in the operator putting a number of systems in place to prevent such accidents occurring.
Signs were displayed throughout the venue advising customers to “Bring your best moves. But please keep your drinks away from the dance floor. We wouldn’t want any trips or falls”, whilst TV screens advised people to “Please keep drinks off the dancefloor. Thank you.” This was supplemented by regular DJ announcements, a good system of inspection and cleaning, and fully briefed staff members.
However, at trial, the claimant and her witness alleged they had not seen any of the prevention systems in operation on the day of her accident. The claimant’s counsel also submitted that the systems were inadequate and that the defendant should have taken steps to prevent any customer from taking drinks onto the dance floor.
The judge pressed counsel for suggestions as to measures he felt should have been taken. In response he accepted that it was a drinking venue and was not suggesting that Butlins should have banned all drinks; nor was he suggesting that the entrance to the dance floor should have been controlled by a barrier where checks would be carried out.
Claimant’s counsel did, however, suggest the defendant could have stationed sufficient employees to intercept and prevent any customer who attempted to take a drink on the dance floor. This was dismissed by the judge as a wholly unrealistic suggestion.
Ward v Tesco
The claimant's counsel also made reference to Ward V Tesco, the case which effectively reverses the burden of proof and requires the defendant to prove that;
- their system for preventing such accidents was adequate, and
- on the balance of probability it would have prevented the accident or made it less likely than not to have occurred.
Crucially the judge ruled that the circumstances of this accident were not comparable with those in Ward v Tesco. He stated that in any public venue where drinks are being served and carried by members of the public there is an inevitable risk of spillage, unlike a supermarket where, on the face of it, there is no good reason or expectation that fluid or other substances may be present on the floor.
The judge also found that there was no evidence in this case as to when the spillage actually occurred. He went on to suggest that the spillage could have appeared only moments before the claimant slipped and Butlins staff would not have had the opportunity to clean it before the accident happened.
The judge made three key conclusions when summing up the case.
- The common duty in issue did not require the defendant to completely prevent all customers from bringing drinks onto the dance floor, in breach of their policy.
- The system in place to reduce the risk of customers doing so along with detecting and clearing up spillages if they occurred, was operational and its measures reasonable, satisfying the common duty.
- Even if he were wrong on the first two points, the judge stated that there was no evidence to conclude that a different policy would have prevented the accident or made it more unlikely.
The claimant's claim was dismissed.
This is potentially an important precedent for the leisure industry, given there is no UK case law in which the defendant has been successful in defending a slipping accident on a dance floor. As this matter was heard by a circuit judge we hope that this matter will provide guidance in future cases.
David Scott, Head of Keoghs Corporate and Sector Risks’ Leisure and Hospitality team, was delighted with the result, saying;
“Given the lengths that our client has gone to in ensuring the risk of a spillage is minimal, this is an important judgment which could have far reaching consequences for the industry as a whole, thanks to a lot of hard work by the teams here at Keoghs and at Butlins.”
Counsel at Oriel Chambers, Christopher Alldis, added;
“All in all it is suggested that the judgment of HHJ Cooke represents a measured and common sense analysis of the problems facing the occupiers of licensed premises in avoiding slipping accidents and offers guidance on the limits of what can reasonably be expected of them in discharge of their duty under the Occupiers’ Liability Act 1957.”