In all of our articles, we are constantly reminding our readers that evidence is king in court. Such evidence can come in the form of diaries, photographs or even better, videos. CCTV footage is now a common form of evidence at trial and can allow judges to be taken right back to the scene of the accident.
We recently wrote an article on a case where the injured party relied on CCTV footage when such a video didn’t exist. Click the link below to read the article.
But what if the video you have is tampered with or altered? Or in fact, doesn’t help your case at all? This case outlines how the Courts deal such a situation in Margaret Hill v Coles Supermarkets Australia Pty Limited  NSWDC 5.
Let me introduce you to Margaret Hill.
Margaret* was a 48-year-old mum of two young boys.
She was married and had worked in administration for a painting company for the last 7 years.
Margaret was an active woman juggling motherhood and working almost full-time. She loved joining her sons in activities such as cricket, tennis, trampolining and bike riding.
It was the start of the New Year and she was on holidays with her sons.
She was looking forward to enjoying the last few weeks of school holidays with her family.
Margaret and her son decided to head to their local Coles supermarket in western Sydney early on January 11, 2013.
The next thing she remembers was “doing the splits” and landing on the floor. She was flung off her feet and her keys and wallet went flying across the floor as she hit the ground with a thud.
Margaret had slipped on a puddle of water next to a refrigerated cabinet.
A puddle that definitely shouldn't have been there.
She suffered a serious injury to her left ankle which required surgery and was on crutches for several weeks.
As a result of the injury, Margaret now walks with a permanent limp and has lower back pain and right hip pain.
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She was frustrated.
She could no longer look after herself or her family. She had to take a month off work and faced expensive medical bills and future surgery.
Margaret completed the bulk of household chores at home after her husband had suffered a debilitating injury at work some years previously. After her accident, many of these chores remained undone and she felt like she was “living in a pigsty”.
Her life was put on hold. Her sons lost their active and engaged mother and her injury put extra strain on their family.
No one should be left unable to do the things they love because of someone else's negligence.
Margaret brought a claim against Coles to cover her lost income, medical bills and domestic care.
Introducing the Civil Liability Act.
The Civil Liability Act was introduced to protect people like Margaret for others’ negligent actions.
However, for claims to be successful under this act you need to be able to prove that the supermarket failed to keep a proper lookout for and avoid an obvious hazard.
Coles supermarket denied that the puddle existed and that Margaret contributed to her injuries.
Margaret had to develop a strong and irrefutable argument against Coles that the puddle existed and that the supermarket failed to warn people of the slipping hazard.
Margaret's success relied on 3 key pieces of evidence.
- 1an incident report;
- 2employee evidence; and
- 3CCTV footage provided by the store showing the accident.
The Incident Report
Margaret obtained the incident report from Coles that outlined the key contributing factor to the accident.
This was listed as was “water on floor from fruit and vegetable filing case”. The report also detailed that the cabinet should have been dry-mopped after the vegetables had been restocked.
This highlighted that the cause of Margaret's accident was indeed a puddle on the floor. Importantly, this document is completed at the time of the accident. A document completed moments after the incident presents a stronger piece of evidence than someone's memory, which tends to fade years after an accident.
The incident report was critical to Margaret's argument.
After a conversation with an employee, Margaret discovered that black floor mats are normally placed in the area to reduce the risk of someone slipping.
Mrs Sandra Schembri, the first employee to attend to Margaret, and Mr Brett Mattingly, the store manager, both testified that mats were to be placed under the fridges.
Brett testified that the mats were picked up by cleaners during the evening and that staff were to replace them first thing in the morning before opening the store.
However, they could not confirm Margaret’s claim that the mats were missing at the time of her accident.
Margaret’s lawyers requested the CCTV footage of aisle and cash register where the accident took place for the hour before and after the accident. Coles provided just two minutes of footage from when the accident would have taken place from only the camera in the aisle.
Crucially, 27 seconds of the film were missing for the time period which would have shown Margaret's fall. Instead, what was shown was Ms Hill lying on the floor, following her fall.
Margaret argued that someone had tampered with the footage prior to delivering it in Court.
It was also common practice for the CCTV footage to be destroyed after a certain period of time. As such, the original copy wasn’t available at the time of trial.
Thankfully, the Judge didn't need the CCTV footage to determine that Coles was at fault.
Judge Phillip Mahony found the supermarket had a responsibility to make sure the store was safe for customers and should have made sure the rubber mat that usually covered the area where Margaret fell was returned to its position after the cleaners had finished mopping the floor.
Margaret was awarded $292, 335 in damages.
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Margaret's case proves that strong evidence on all fronts is important to ensure a case is successful.
Had Margaret relied solely on the CCTV footage, she may not have won her case and received the necessary compensation to get her life back on track.
Evidence from CCTV footage is capable of being far more accurate that traditional forms. However, reliance on technology can undermine your case if the footage has been lost, tampered with or not recorded at all. Therefore, it's really important to ensure that any video recording is collected accurately from all cameras and that there is no missing footage.
This case also highlights that it may not be necessary for someone to gather 'expert' evidence to establish there has been a clear breach of duty. Incident reports can prove to be golden ticket to proving liability or who is at fault.
* The names and narrative have been altered but the facts of the case in regards to payments, liability and the Judge's findings on the evidence are reported as written in the judgement.