The BP Chinderah roadhouse is a welcome landmark for those driving South to the Tweed Coast as it signals they are approaching their destination and for those going further, it marks the start of the most picturesque part of the journey.
Well patronised by travellers and truckers as a food and drink stop, it is a busy round the clock operation.
As one may expect, cleaning of the roadhouse is scheduled for the quietest part of the day.
It was at about 3:25 am on such a morning in March 2011, that Susan Muller left her post at McDonald’s to visit the women’s bathroom.
Her path took her past the McDonald’s counter and that of competitor KFC along the tiled food court walkway.
As she approached, she saw signs in the entry alcoves to both bathrooms indicating that they were closed for cleaning.
She therefore turned right into a corridor that led to a disabled toilet. A short distance along, she slipped and fell.
Susan immediately felt her clothes were wet as was the surface on which she was lying. She then saw that water on the floor extended further along the hall.
Andrew Hogg – who was working at the nearby Wild Bean cafe and was the first to arrive at the scene after hearing a scream – confirmed the water as did Marilyn Burke, the night shift roadhouse console operator.
Susan’s claim for workers’ compensation eventually took the protagonists to the Supreme Court and then the New South Wales Court of Appeal.
Kelly’s Property Management Services Pty Ltd who conducted the early morning cleaning contended that the water on the floor was an “obvious risk” entitling it to Civil Liability immunity.
At the very least, it argued, Muller was partly responsible for her own injuries because she ought to have seen the water ahead of her and taken greater care.
She ought to have figured out, it alleged – because there were “wet floor signs” and chairs stacked on tables in the food court area – the presence of water elsewhere was likely.
All four judges rejected these arguments, concurring that the cleaner had failed to place “wet floor” signs in any part of the slippery walkway probably because he had just pushed a scrubbing machine across it.
They had the benefit of viewing CCTV footage that showed Kelly’s cleaner pushing the machine down the corridor to a storeroom about 2 minutes prior to Susan’s tumble.
Kelly’s then argued that Muller ought to have seen another sign to closer the corridor – “in her peripheral vision” – even though it was to the left of her route to the bathrooms and partly obscured by a food court booth.
Not so ruled their honours.
“A reasonable person in the position of Ms Muller would not have realised that the floor at the end of the walkway had recently been cleaned and left damp and wet,” they ruled.
Kelly’s was found responsible for the $118k workers compensation paid out in respect of Muller’s claim.