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Teacher who slips on grape sues school for breaching duty of care

In Deans v Maryborough Christian Education Foundation Ltd (2018), the Queensland District Court rejected a teacher’s claim that her employer breached its duty of care when she fractured her knee after slipping on a grape at work.

During a daily ‘fruit break’, the teacher walked from a classroom through a foyer area and slipped and fell on a grape, fracturing her left knee cap.

She commenced proceedings against her employer, claiming that it failed to uphold its duty of care to her as there was no system in place for cleaning the foyer following daily fruit breaks.

The employer argued that it did have a system in place for cleaning the foyer after a daily fruit break, by placing teachers, including the teacher who made the injury claim, in charge of identifying rubbish on school grounds and either picking it up themselves or directing students to do so.

Grounds staff were also employed at the school whom the teachers could call upon to attend to identified rubbish.

The Queensland District Court dismissed the teacher’s claim on the basis that the risk was not reasonably foreseeable, especially given that the daily fruit breaks had been taking place at the school for approximately five years without any incident, and that the employer had a system in place that was adequate to discharge its duty of care to its workers.

The Court further noted that even if the school had employed a person dedicated to inspecting and cleaning the foyer after the daily fruit breaks, it was highly unlikely that the grape would have been identified and picked up prior to the teacher slipping on it.

This case demonstrates the importance of having adequate systems in place to ensure the workplace is safe. If the Court had found that the employer did not have adequate systems in place, it could have been ordered to pay the worker around $500,000 in damages.

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