No liability for needlestick injury in Queensland holiday apartment

16 August 2012 Topics: Insurance

The Queensland District Court has recently cleared an apartment manager of liability to the guest of a holiday apartment who sustained a needlestick injury in the apartment, finding that the risk of harm was not reasonably foreseeable. The Court indicated that if the guest had been successful, she would have been awarded damages of almost $500,000.

The guest was staying at an apartment rented via the popular accommodation website Wotif. She was injured by a discarded needle that was stuck in a crease in a staircase inside the apartment. She sued the manager (Wright v K B Nut Holdings P/L [2012] QDC 202).

Before the apartment was occupied by the guest, it had been cleaned by subcontractor cleaners, who had not discovered the needle. The guest was injured when she was cleaning the stairs, having felt that the apartment was not clean enough on her arrival.

The Court held that it was not reasonable to expect that an apartment manager or cleaner would search and discover a concealed needle in the crease of a stairwell. A reasonable person in the position of the apartment manager would not take any precautions in addition to those that were taken. These included engaging the cleaners, inspecting their work and inspecting the apartment generally.

While the manager had done all that was reasonable in the circumstances to ensure the apartment was fit for habitation, what is reasonable in a different case will depend on a multitude of factors. Important considerations in this case included the size and location of the needle, as well as the absence of a needle apparatus such as a plastic syringe.

The guest was unable to establish that a more competent cleaner or system of cleaning would have led to the discovery of the needle. This case reminds us that:

  • An occupier’s duty to take reasonable care to avoid foreseeable risk of harm at a property always remains with the occupier. It is not a duty that can be delegated to third party cleaners (although contractual rights of indemnity may apply).
  • While the engagement of cleaners may help establish that reasonable steps were taken to satisfy the duty of care, additional safety precautions are necessary.
  • Advisable precautions include regular and reasonably thorough property inspections. These inspections may not prevent all injuries, but they are critical to satisfying the duty of care and will reduce the risks of injury and subsequent litigation.
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