Chips and the High Court of Australia

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Thursday 8 March 2012

Yesterday, the High Court of Australia handed down what I am sure will be referred to in the years to come as the “chip slip” case. In the meantime it’s official citation is Strong v Woolworths [2012] HCA 5, and is actually quite a sad story of a disabled women on crutches who slipped on a chip (not a potato crisp but a fried chip) at a Local Supermarket.

The case was primarily about what system of cleaning the supermarket had in place, but some of the evidentiary findings (not to mention the legal technicalities) are astonishing, particularly at paragraph 35 in the majority judgment which stated that “chips are a type of food some people eat for lunch”. Two paragraphs later the court stated that “There was no basis for concluding that chips are more likely to be eaten for lunch than for breakfast or as a snack during the course of the morning”.

However, the judges in the majority concluded that:

“it was an error for the Court of Appeal to hold that it could not be concluded that the chip had been on the ground for long enough for it to be detected and removed by the operation of a reasonable cleaning system

The appeal was allowed and the lady received $580,000 in damages.

However there was one lone dissenter, Justice Heydon, who while he agreed that chips are a type of food some people eat for lunch, he held that there were other evidentiary problems such as “there was no direct evidence of when the chip fell” (paragraph [66]), “there was no evidence as to the temperature of the chip” and my favourite:

“Chips available for sale in a shopping centre can no doubt be eaten at any time from the time when the shops selling them open until the time when they close” (paragraph [70]).

Luckily the case didn’t turn on the problem of whether people can eat chips after a shop has closed, but what is to be learnt from this case, in law or in practice?

In my view three things:

1. High Court judges don’t eat chips, or do a very good job to hide the fact that they do.
2. People who eat chips, hot ones and cold ones, should be careful not to drop them.
3. If you run a store, ban chip eaters, unless you also hire some pigeons or seagulls to follow them around.


Jessica said...

hehe! there was nothing this exciting when I did HSC Legal Studies.

Erin said...

Chips for breakfast??? Even Mcdonalds know better than to try to flog that one - they wisely sell Hash Browns instead. What we like to refer to as Fat Sponges.

Tezzabopper said...

Is there such a word as "evidentiary" or is it just a word used by the law to confuse and terrorize the peasantry?

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