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Negligence: the critical step of proving causation

  • Newsletter Article
  • Published 24.06.2024

Gomez v Woolworths Group Limited (NSWCA 2024)

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Key Takeaways

The Court of Appeal has confirmed the well-established principle that in order to be successful in a claim for negligence, a plaintiff must prove:

  1. A duty of care was owed to them
  2. The duty of care was breached
  3. The breach was causative of their injury

If one of the limbs is not satisfied, the claim will ultimately fail.

Brief Facts

A customer slipped on a piece of fruit at the entrance to a Woolworth’s store at approximately 5:11pm. She sustained a personal injury as a result of her fall and commenced proceedings against Woolworths.

Woolworths admitted a piece of fruit had been dropped by a previous customer at approximately 5:02pm. It was admitted that Woolworths owed the customer a duty of care, but denied that duty of care had been breached. Woolworths argued reasonable precautions had been taken to minimise the risk of injury which included a ‘clean as you go’ policy and hourly floor inspections. It was conceded the hourly inspection was not carried out at 5pm on the date of the customer’s injury.

In the District Court, the primary judge held that Woolworths had breached its duty of care by failing to conduct an hourly inspection at 5pm and failing to ensure the entrance to the store was included in the hourly inspections. However, causation was not made out because even if the 5pm inspection had been conducted, the customer’s injuries would not have been prevented.

The claim was dismissed, and the customer appealed. The customer submitted the primary judge ought to have found additional breaches of duty of care under the ‘clean as you go system’ (being the failure of two employees to identify and remove the fruit) and that the breaches were causative of her injuries.


The Court of Appeal agreed that the two employees identified by the customer were not required to inspect the front of the store under the ‘clean as you go system’. One of the employees had completed his shift and was off duty when he left the store via the front entrance. The piece of fruit was dropped outside of the other employee’s area of responsibility, and out of his line of sight.

The Court of Appeal also agreed Woolworths’ failure to conduct its hourly inspection at 5pm was not causative of the customer’s injury. Given the fruit was dropped at 5:02pm, the customer still would have slipped and fell even if the inspection had been carried out.


Although this case was determined pursuant to principles in the Civil Liability Act 2002 (NSW), it provides assurance to insurers and employers that all three limbs must be satisfied to bring a successful negligence claim.

With work injury damages claims on the rise, each matter needs to be scrutinised to determine whether a worker will be able to prove on the balance of probabilities that their injury was caused by any alleged breach of the employer.