The teacher was employed as a literacy coach (specialist teacher). The position required her to move from classroom to classroom providing specialist coaching in reading to those students who required extra help.
The teacher slipped at 8:55am when she was walking through the foyer, an area that was lined by linoleum, and provided access to three lower primary classrooms. At times this can be a high traffic area with each adjacent classroom housing 25 students. From time-to-time parents and teachers aide’s would also walk through the area.
At the time she slipped, the teacher was carrying a large chart book, roughly one meter in length and half a meter in width. She was walking through the foyer when she slipped on a grape, fracturing her patella (kneecap).
During this time of the day, ‘fruit breaks’ took place to assist in energising the children.
A ‘fruit break’ could be initiated by the teacher at any time, but usually took place prior to mid-morning recess. The children were required to go out to their bags that were stored on hooks in the foyer to collect their fruit and then bring it back into the class to eat.
Evidence provided by the Principal was that during regular recess breaks (not fruit breaks) the teachers would ask students to pick up rubbish, but apart from that, the cleanliness of the school was relied upon by the teachers, including their classrooms and foyer areas.
The issue that the trial judge addressed was whether the respondent, Maryborough Christian Education Foundation Ltd, had breached its duty of care owed to the appellant.
In summary, the learned trial judge found that the work environment in which the teacher worked was safe. There was nothing to suggest that the teacher required any warning from the school about a risk of fruit being on the floor, and that a cleaning system that may have detected the fruit was not required. Finally, the fact that there had been no previous incident in the 5 year period of ‘fruit breaks’ occurring suggested that the risk of such an event occurring was low.
In August 2018, the teacher filled an appeal to the District Court at Brisbane to challenge the trial judge’s decision that there was no breach of the duty of care owed.
On appeal, the Court described the present ‘risk’ as: at the time of a fruit break, a child would drop fruit on the foyer floor; that child would not pick it up; that a person familiar with fruit breaks who was walking the foyer would fail to see the fruit; that a person would step on it, slip and fall to the ground; and that person would be injured as a result.
The appeal court noted that in these circumstances it was reasonably foreseeable that such an injury may occur in the way it did, however such a risk was categorised as very low and therefore the duty of cared owed was not breached by the school. Additionally, the teacher failed to provide evidence on what likely precautions the respondent should have taken.