Hong Kong's High Court, has recently ruled in relation to a slip and fall accident in an MTR station. The judgment is interesting because it provides insight into what measures the MTR Corporation would have to have in place in order to successfully rely on the statutory defence under Section 3(4)(b) of the Occupiers Liability Ordinance, Cap 314 ("the Ordinance").
A passenger fell when walking through the concourse of an MTR station, injuring her lower back and right knee. The passenger claimed that water on the ground had caused her to slip and fall. The defendant, the MTR Corporation Ltd ("the MTR"), denied that the ground had been wet or slippery. In the alternative, the MTR relied on the statutory defence under Section 3(4)(b) of the Ordinance, arguing that even if there had been water on the ground, it had discharged its common duty of care, by having reasonably entrusted the cleaning of the station to an independent cleaning contractor and having taken reasonable steps to ensure that the cleaning had been properly done.
The court found that there had not been water on the ground at the time of the accident. The court said that even if there had been water on the ground, the MTR was entitled to rely on the defence under the Ordinance, because it had properly discharged its common duty of care, by having in place a reasonable and proper system to ensure that the station was safe for passengers and having taken reasonable steps to ensure that the cleaning work was properly done.
In this case, the MTR had sub-contracted the cleaning works to a company who had three, eleven person teams, working three shifts a day, supervised by a foreman. Apart from those shifts, if the floor was found to be wet or slippery by a cleaning worker, it would be mopped dry immediately. The work of the cleaning contractor was also supervised by Station Controllers and their staff, who would conduct regular inspections to ensure that the station floor was clean and dry.
The court said that a station concourse is different from other smaller venues such as restaurants, where the risk of spillage of water or oily substance on the floor is much greater. It said that to require the MTR to implement a system which could avoid all accidental spillage of water on the ground was simply unrealistic. The court decided that the measures taken by the MTR were adequate and reasonable.
The court said that an MTR station, being a public place accessible by many members of the public, the MTR could not be expected to place a worker in every place in the station to guard against passengers spilling water on the ground. What was required, was a reasonably effective system for getting rid of the danger that might from time to time exist. If, as in the present case, the MTR sub-contracted cleaning to an independent contractor, then the MTR had to take reasonable steps to supervise the cleaning work and ensure that it was properly done.