Shop trolleys ‘dangerous’ rules appeal court

Posted: 21st November 2012

Trolleys used at thousands of DIY stores and supermarkets have been declared ‘dangerous’ by a senior judge after a 79-year-old woman tripped over one, breaking both her arms. In a ruling of great significance to the retail industry, Lord Justice Moses said that low-slung, L-shaped, flatbed trolleys - of the type ubiquitous in stores - pose a foreseeable risk of injury to shoppers.RCJ

The judge made his finding as he ruled Wm Morrisons Supermarkets Plc. 80% liable for the accident that befell Jean Palfrey at the company's branch in Tavistock, Devon, in November 2008. Mrs Palfrey tripped over the trolley, which had been left briefly unattended by a shelf stacker, and the damage to her shoulders and arms was so severe that she had to spend three months in hospital and has been left with permanent disabilities.

Awarding her £44,000 damages, the judge, sitting at the Court of Appeal, said: ‘Shoppers walking up and down aisles in supermarkets are expected to be attracted by what is on the shelves; they do not expect to have to look towards the ground. Their attention will be on their shopping and other shoppers. Mrs Palfrey was intent on indicating to her husband that she had found pork pies and all of that would have deflected her attention away from the long, low-based, trolley.’

Despite Morrisons' arguments that similar trollies are a common sight at stores across the country, the judge added: ‘The mere fact that this type of trolley is in widespread use throughout the industry does not mean that it is safe. Using such a trolley as this - low as it was and with the shopper's attention foreseeably at a higher level - was dangerous.’

The judge stopped short of ruling that such trolleys could never be safely used - particularly when placed against shelves - but said that it would be ‘absurd’ to expect members of staff to be posted beside them at all times to warn members of the public of the tripping hazard. Leaving such a low-lying trolley in the middle of an aisle ‘did create a foreseeable risk of injury’.

The court dismissed Morrisons’ appeal against a finding that it was 50% liable for Mrs Palfrey’s accident. Her cross-appeal was allowed to the extent that the company’s liability was increased to 80%. Morrisons were also ordered to pay the legal costs of the case, which have been estimated at close to £200,000.