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Woman who slipped on bag outside Dunnes store has damages claim rejected

By Alan Erwin

Published 19/02/2016

Had the woman won the action, she would have been awarded £60,000 the judge said.
Had the woman won the action, she would have been awarded £60,000 the judge said.

A pensioner who claims a discarded shopping bag caused her to slip and fall outside a Co Down department store has lost a High Court battle for damages.

Mr Justice Stephens dismissed Ann Griffin's lawsuit against Dunnes Stores after stating he would have awarded her £60,000 if she had been successful.

Rejecting the negligence action, he ruled that neither the shop, its managing agents or local council were aware of any litter problems in the area.

Ms Griffin, 68,  sustained a serious shoulder injury when she fell at the entrance to a branch of Dunnes on Monaghan Street, Newry in August 2009.

She alleged that the accident was caused by either slipping on or becoming entangled in a carrier bag lying on the ground.

Her fall occurred as she walked to a waiting taxi after returning a trolley to a bay outside the store.

Although she did not see what caused her accident, the court heard how the cab driver spotted her feet getting caught up in a shopping bag.

Ms Griffin sued Dunnes, the management agents of the store's landlords, Newry and Mourne District Council, and an exterior cleaning and maintenance contractor.

In a ruling delivered last month but only just published, the judge found her fall was due to slipping on or becoming entangled with a plastic shopping bag near the trolley bay.

But following a dispute over the amount of litter at the front of the store, he pointed out that the plaintiff had encountered no previous problem in the nine years she had shopped at the store.

Based on evidence in the case, Mr Justice Stephens held there was no problem with litter or plastic bags at the storefront, except for irregular, unpredictable and minor occurrences.

Any discarded litter would have been small items, the vast majority posing no slipping or tripping hazard.

"I find that none of the defendants were aware of nor ought they have been aware of, nor should they have foreseen any problem with plastic bags in this area except on an extremely rare occasion, the timing of the occurrence of which could not be predicted," he said. 

"Except to that most limited extent none of the defendants knew that plastic shopping bags would be on the ground at the entrance to the store though all of them knew or ought to have known that if there was a plastic bag on the ground that it would present a hazard to pedestrians."

Dismissing Ms Griffin's claim, he confirmed that she had failed to established any negligence or breach of statutory duty.

The judge added: "I make it clear that if I found in favour of the plaintiff I would have awarded £60,000 in relation to general damages."

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