A Case in Point
ABC News has recently published an article that notes the following sad situation – In a neighbouring trauma bay, an elderly lady has been brought in after a fall. She is awake but looks uncomfortable lying flat on her back with a hard neck collar immobilising her spine. She slipped and hit her head while playing with her grandchildren.
The article goes on to note that geriatric trauma is fast becoming a priority area of trauma care. Two-thirds of female and one-third of male injury-related deaths occur in those aged over 65.
Unfortunately, as we get older our ability to manage the slip gets harder and harder and sadly our ability to avoid injury when we fall almost becomes impossible. We find that a simple fall can lead to very serious injuries, including:
- Head Injuries, including fractures of the skull and Acquired Brain Injuries
- Spinal Injuries, to the cervical, thoracic or lumbar spine
- Torn Ligaments in a shoulder
- Fracture of the humerus in an arm
- Fracture of the elbow
- Fracture of the wrist
- Damage to the hand
- Hip Fracture
- Pelvic Fracture
- Fracture of the patella in the knee
- Torn ligaments in the knee
- Ankle fractures
- Fractures in the foot
Sadly, again with age the long term outcome of these serious injuries dramatically changes the quality of the person’s life, affecting their ability to take care of themselves, their ability to care for others in their lives, such as a husband or partner and especially any children or grandchildren.
Falls account for 73% of cases of major trauma in patients over 65 years of age. Support for the article comes from a Victorian State Trauma Annual Report that notes that there has been a 33% increase in serious major trauma to those 85 years of age and older and with a 14% increase in what can be classified simply as fall from ground level.
One may believe that falls by a person over the age of 85 is of little consequence in the law – but that would be an incorrect opinion. The law looks at the quality of life of the person and there are many persons who at age 85 and older are leading a very active life, and the loss of their physical health becomes a major life-changing event, unexpected and unplanned. It was one of the matters considered in a recent decision of our Victorian Supreme Court which awarded a 91-year-old man for a femoral neck fracture with lasting effects on mobility.**
These slips and falls can occur in so many locations where someone is responsible for the condition of the flooring at the time of the fall, such as:
- At your place of work;
- While walking into a store at your local shopping centre;
- While walking in the public areas of a shopping centre,
- While attending an event at a public sports centre, concert or entertainment venue such as a theatre;
- While in a restaurant or other food and drink venue;
- While walking at someone’s home or maybe going up or down a flight of stairs; or
There is a considerable body of law that deals with liabilities of public venues for the condition of a floor, and what efforts have to be made to ensure that the floor is safe. In saying so, a public venue does not have to guarantee the safety of its floors at all times, only that reasonable efforts are made to keep the floor safe.
Those efforts include:
- Having a reasonable system for the cleaning of the venue before the public is invited in, such as a generally clean and tidy
- Having a system for ongoing inspection of the floors during trading hours
- Making sure any system of inspection is actually followed in a consistent manner
- Responding to any items that floor to the ground in a timely manner
- Having a comprehensive system to respond to a slipping hazard which can include warning signs and having a person remain at the site till the area is safe
- Ensuring all cleaning staff put up warning sign at any time the floor is cleaned
- Putting down mats for areas exposed to rain or to persons tracking in rain on their footwear
- Having mats placed down in areas that there is a high expectation that food items are likely to fall to the floor and create a danger, such as in and around check out areas or food display counters
- Using appropriate packaging to minimize the likelihood of certain highly hazardous items like grapes do not fall to the ground.
- Pain and suffering, such as the award of $110,000 to the 91-year-old man mentioned above
- Medical and related expenses such as aids to ambulate and to assist around the home and medication
- A financial value for the gratuitous services provided by family and friends in the past and that are likely to be needed into the future at a very generous hourly rate