Judgment for Defendant in a trip and fall incident at McDonald's03 February 2021
In the personal injury case of Belmont v McDonalds Australia Limited  QDC 319, the District Court of Queensland (the Court) provides clarity on a plaintiff’s obligation to pay attention as to where they are walking, questions as to adequacy of lighting in a carpark and, in turn, the onus on a plaintiff to establish liability under the Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld).
On Sunday 9 October 2016, at approximately 7:00 pm Ms Belmont (the Plaintiff), attended a McDonald’s restaurant (the Defendant) and while walking in the carpark to the entry, stepped onto a cement tyre stop (also referred to as a bollard) in the carpark and when attempted to step off, she fell to the ground fracturing her proximal left humerus (in her shoulder). The Plaintiff claimed her injuries were sustained as a result of the Defendant’s negligence by failing to:
- ensure the front of the restaurant was lit or adequately lit
- ensure all of the carpark lights were operational
- ensure that the concourse at the front of the restaurant was sufficiently lit from the carpark, and
- respond to memos or text messages from staff about the carpark lights not working from staff of the restaurant.
The Defendant denied the allegations and alleged that the incident occurred as a result of the Plaintiff not looking at the path ahead but rather at her handbag and there was no lack of lighting where the Plaintiff fell. It was also alleged that the tyre stop, and surface of the carpark area, posed obvious risks of misjudgement and of falling unless one gave attention to one’s foot placement and/or the path ahead.
Therefore, the case would turn upon the condition of the lighting in the incident location, any risk posed by a lack of lighting and if the Plaintiff’s fall was caused by that risk or by her own inattention.
The Court found in favour of the Defendant and the proceedings were dismissed. The key components of the judgment are:
- There was CCTV footage available and it was clear that the Plaintiff’s attention was directed towards her handbag when she proceeded to walk across the tyre stop and attempted to walk onto the concourse of the entrance. It was held that the Plaintiff failed to pay attention to where she was stepping and fell.
- There was no evidence (expert or otherwise) to establish to what extent the carpark lights, if on, added to the illumination of the incident location. The incident location was adequately lit which was demonstrated by the Plaintiff stepping, with apparent ease, onto the tyre stop before attempting to step onto the concourse. The evidence demonstrates that the concourse, onto which the Plaintiff attempted to step, was no less illuminated or visible than the tyre stop.
- The Plaintiff failed to prove that there was a not insignificant, foreseeable risk of harm in respect of which a reasonable person in the position of the Defendant would have taken reasonable precautions, see s 9(1) Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld).
- Irrespective, the trial Judge stated that even if he had concluded that there was inadequate lighting of the incident location, he would have remained of the view that the Plaintiff’s fall was not caused by such inadequacy or any risk created by it.
- The assumption of an obvious risk by the Plaintiff was rejected because it was held that the apparent ease with which people attending the restaurant, including the Plaintiff, could see and step onto the tyre stop, and the further ease which those paying attention could step from it onto the concourse, it could not be concluded that engaging in that activity posed an obvious risk.
Personal injury cases where a plaintiff asserts there was inadequate lighting that resulted in their injury are increasingly common. This case is a stark reminder of a plaintiff’s obligation under the Civil Liability Act 2003 (Qld) to prove they tripped or otherwise injured themselves on a hazard that a defendant should have detected. It goes without saying that it is imperative to analyse evidence in depth, such as CCTV, to determine if there was in fact a hazard or if the incident was as a result of the person’s inattention.
The Plaintiff claimed that although she suffered no loss of income, she would be disadvantaged if she returned to the open labour market. This is a common allegation in claims for loss and damages. The Court simply concluded that, on the evidence, there was no real basis to place, with any precision, a value upon the Plaintiff’s disadvantage in the labour market and concluded there was no basis upon which the figure claimed by the Plaintiff could be derived. Rather, this potential situation that may never eventuate was calculated at a reduced rate (of $25 per week) projected over her working life.