BUS503: Can Stella sue Christine in Negligence - Commercial Law Assessment Answers

November 30, 2017
Author : Julia Miles

Solution Code: 1HAG

Question:Commercial Law Assignment

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Christine operates yoga classes from the Maleny Country Women’s Association (CWA) hall. Christine is a part-time yoga instructor. She conducts one Tuesday night class and one Thursday night class each week. Although she holds a Certificate IV in Yoga Instruction from the Australian Yoga Institute, her regular job is as a physical education teacher at a local high school. She doesn’t offer her yoga classes during school holidays. Christine operates as a sole trader and she hires the hall in her own name. She has no insurance.

Christine’s classes are very popular and well attended. Christine has 25 students in her Tuesday night class and an equal number of different students on Thursday night. Each student pays an upfront fee to Christine at the beginning of a course that lasts eight weeks to cover tuition and all associated costs.

The CWA hall was originally constructed as a dance hall for US service men in 1943. It is of timber construction with a highly polished hardwood floor. Christine limited the numbers of students because the hall is physically too small to accommodate any larger groups. Initially, Christine conducted classes of 35. However, she found that she was not able to effectively supervise the students and after a series of minor sprains and injuries sustained by various students, she limited class numbers to 25. She has had no problems with this smaller number of participants. However she does make special provision for the floor, which, because it is highly polished, is very slippery for yoga standing exercises.

Over time Christine has tried a number of strategies to overcome the slippery floor. She asked students to do the exercises standing on their exercise mats, but many found that they slipped on their mats. She purchased several large rolls of second hand carpet to put on the floor, but found that this approach added one hour to her time each class because she had to roll it out before and roll it up after each class. She asked the hall committee about laying vinyl flooring but the committee would not approve any change to the wooden floor because the building is heritage listed. Finally, to overcome the slipping problem, Christine purchased a large number of socks with rippled rubber soles. Christine gives these socks out to students at the beginning of each class, collects them at the end and takes them home to wash them before the next class.

Christine conducts each class alone and without assistance. She provides hot herbal tea and hot towels to students before and after the class on each night. The tea is heated in a large urn on a table against one wall of the hall adjacent to the exercise floor. The towels are heated in a steamer on the table next to the urn.

Three weeks ago, Christine was forced to cancel her Tuesday night class because of parent teacher night commitments at her high school. Some of the students from the Tuesday night class were disappointed and even asked for a partial refund of their tuition fees. Christine responded that any Tuesday night student who wished could attend the next Thursday night class.

On the following Thursday 35 students attended instead of the usual 25. The floor was very crowded. Christine prepared the tea and towels as usual. She also issued each student with their slippers with instruction that they must wear them. Christine never completely explained the reason for the slipper requirement but stressed that each student must wear them while on the floor.

Stella has attended Christine’s Thursday night class since this year’s classes began in early February. She arrived a few minutes late to this class because she had spent a few hours at an after work party where she consumed three glasses of wine. While the class had not yet begun, she was surprised to see so many participants. Stella couldn’t occupy her usual position at the front of the class. Instead, she found a small space very close to the tea and towel table. Stella decided to try to complete a class without wearing her slippers because she found that their orange colour clashed with her pink outfit.

Stella commenced exercising barefoot. She was the only student not to wear slippers. While performing the first posture, Stella’s left foot skidded into the leg of the table, toppling the urn and steamer onto her body. The hot tea, towels and appliances severely scolded her skin. Stella’s was hospitalised for six weeks and requires ongoing treatment. She may need plastic surgery for the scar tissue. She will also miss several months of work without pay. Christine visited Stella in hospital and apologised to her profusely.

Stella wishes to sue Christine in Negligence. Advise her.

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After understanding the factual analyse, there are three main issues that arose. The same are:

  1. Can Stella sue Christine in Negligence?
  2. Are there any defence which can be used by Christine to protect her?

All the two issues can be analysed after understanding the law of negligence, scope of personal liability and the defences that are available under law.


The law of negligence is the neglect of the legal duty. The basic requirement to prove negligence is duty of care, breach and resultant damages. The law of negligence was allocated in early case of Heavenv.Pender (1883) wherein it was submitted by Brett MR that when any person is placed in situations wherein he was placed with a responsibility to carry out his functions in such manner so that adequate care and skill must be used so that no damage is caused to another person, then, an ordinary skill and care must be undertaken by such person like a normal prudent man in similar situations. (Sydney 2016)

However, the law of negligence was given recognition by the landmark decision of Donoghue v. Stevenson(1832). In this case, Lord Atkin submitted that reasonable care must be undertaken in order to mitigate those omissions and acts which are reasonably foreseeable and which may like to injure the neighbour and a person is considered to be a neighbour who is so directly and closely affected by the actions of the defendant that he would reasonably believe to incur because of his acts and omissions. The law laid down by Lord Atkin in Donoghue was applied in Australia in Grant v Australian Knitting Mills(1936). It was submitted that in order to make a defendant liable under law of negligence, the main elements are: (WEB 2016)

  1. Duty of Care - The duty of care is nothing but an obligation which is imposed on the defendant to carry out his actions and omission so that no reasonably foreseeable danger may be caused to the plaintiff. The basic requirements to impose duty on the defendant are established by Deane J in Jaensch v. Coffey(1984): (Lawskool 2011)
  2. That the duty will only exist against those dangers which are reasonably foreseeable. Reasonable forseeability is judged by analysing what a normal prudent man will act in the like circumstances. If the defendant has acted equivalent to a normal prudent man then he has comply with his duty but if not then the duty is not performed. In Palsgraf v. Long Island R.R. Co. (1928) it was held that there existed no reasonably forseeability when a railway guard helps a passenger resulting in explosion which no normal prudent man can foresee in the like situation.
  3. The duty will only exists when the relationship amid the defendant and the plaintiff is proximate, that is, there is establishment of neighbourhood principle. If the acts of the defendant will defiantly impact the plaintiff then they are in proximate relationship and the defendant is imposed with duty of care and is held in Levi v Colgate-Palmolive (1941).
  4. There must be no other rule which excludes the duty of care.

Once duty of care is proved against the defendant, the next important element that must be proved in order to hold a defendant liable under the law of negligence is,

  1. Breach of duty of care – When a duty is imposed upon a defendant then in order to hold him liable under law of negligence it is necessary that such duty must be violated by the defendant himself. In order to consider whether a duty is violated or not it is necessary to consider some of the elements: (Carver 2007)
  2. That the duty so violated must be reasonably foreseeable by the defendant. If the duty so violated is not reasonably foreseeable then there is no breach of duty Wyong Shire Council v Shirt (1979):
  3. Whether the duty is violated or not will depend upon the standard of care that is required in the circumstances. The cases dealing with high risks require high duty of care and vice versa. Any non-compliance is nothing but breach of duty of care and is rightly held in Romeo v Conservation Commission (1998).

When the duty so imposed upon the defendant is not catered by him then such duty is said to be violated. However, in order to hold a defendant liable it is necessary that there must be damage which is caused o the plaintiff.

  1. Damages – it is only when damages are sustained by the plaintiff that the defendant can be sued under the law of negligence. However, it is not every kind of damage for which the defendant is accountable. Rather here are few conditions which must be met. The same are:

  1. The damage which is incurred to the plaintiff because of the breach of duty of care by the defendant must be reasonably foreseeable. That is the damage must not be too remote which is no predictable by the defendant. The damages which are very remote will not made the defendant liable. A defendant is only answerable for reasonably foreseeable damages.
  2. The mages so caused must be the direct impact of the acts of the defendant, that is, the damage so incurred must be the result of breach of duty. Hence there must be presence of element of causation.

Thus, it is only when all the three elements are present that a defendant can be held liable under the law of negligence.

However, even if a defendant is held liable but he can protect himself by availing the defence of contributory negligence. Under this defence if the defendant is able to prove that the loss they caused to the plaintiff was inflicted not by defendant actions alone but it was plaintiff also who contributed to his own loss then defence of contributory negligence can be relied on. Under section 5S of the Civil Liability Act, 100% of the damages can be reduced if the court thinks justified and is held in Wynbergen v Hoyts Corporation Pty Ltd (1997). (Sydney 2016)

Now, the relevant law is applied.


The law is now applied to the facts of the case,

It is submitted that,

Christine runs Yoga class from CWA Hall and is a part time yoga instructor. She is a sole trader. The capacity of CWA was not more than 25 students (earlier there were 35 students but suffer from sprains and injuries because of non-effective supervision because of space).

The floor was highly slippery because of which injuries incurred previously.

Thus, there was a duty of care that is imposed upon Christine to make sure that no student must be suffered because of such slippery floors. In order to make sure that no accident took place because of such slippery floor she purchased socks with rippled rubber soles. Thus, by taking adequate precautions she tried to cater with her duty of care.

However, she also provides hot herbal tea and towels and the urn and steamer are placed adjacent to the exercise floor.

Now, in such situations, there exists a duty of care upon Christine towards Stella because of various reasons.

  1. By applying the law in United Novelty Co v Daniels (1949) wherein a flammable substance was used to clean the coin machine. Rat run in the machine causing fire and death. It was held that since the fire substance used is dangerous and the risk associated with it is foreseeable, thus, there is presence of reasonable forseeability.

Likewise, the urn and steamer contains hot material which may hamper the students who are exercising. The danger is reasonably foreseeable by a normal prudent man. Thus, Christine can reasonably foresee the danger that might occur by placing the urn and steamer at such a location.

  1. The relationship amid Christine and Stella are proximate. By applying the law in Nagle v Rottnest Island Authority (1993) it is submitted that whenever a defendant engaged the plaintiff in any activity then he is imposed with duty to provide care to such plaintiff as they are close proximate relationship. Since, Stella was engaged by Christine to carry out exercises thus, Christine is under duty to provide care and precede environment.

Now, the duty of care is imposed upon Christine as Stella and Christine are in proximate relationship and Christine must be aware of the danger that may incurred by placing the urn and steamer adjacent to the wall where the exercise is carried on.

Now, in order to hold Christine liable for negligence, it is important to understand whether the duty of care is violated by her or not. This can be analysing as under:

  1. That the risk that may take place by placing the urn and steamer adjacent to the wall of the floor is reasonably foreseeable. In Romeo v Conservation Commission (1998) it as rightly held that if the risk is not reasonably foreseeable then there is no duty. Bu in the current situation the risk is very probable and thus Christine must have taken adequate steps in order to mitigate such risks.
  2. Also, in Burnie Port Authority v General Jones Pty Ltd (1994) it was rightly submitted that when the magnitude of risk is higher than it is necessary that greater degree of care must be applied. In the given situation, the water and tea in steamer and urn were boiling and it was probable that the injury that might caused because of them will be of significant magnitude. Thus the precaution that must be undertaken must also be of significant degree. But the same was not applied by Christine as there were no warning signs, etc.

Thus, the duty that was imposed on Christine was rightly breached by her. Also, the day on which Stella faced her injuries there were 35 students that were attended by Christine in place of 25 students. Christine was already aware that more than 25 students are not capable to be adjusted in the hall. Even if the same are adjusted then there were previous occasion wherein injuries were sustained by the students because of lack of attention. Still no adequate measures were undertaken by Christine in order to mitigate the harm. Hence, the duty was fully breached by Christine.

Now, even when the duty is violated by Christine it is important that loss must be sustained by Stella.

In Dominion Natural Gas v Collins and Perkins (1909) it was held that if any damage is caused by bringing damager us substance on the premises then the occupier is held liable for the loss caused because of such dangerous substances. It is submitted that Christine has placed the urn and steamer at such a location that the damage which may be caused because of it is reasonably foreseeable. It is predictable that if the urn and steamer will fall then it will obviously cause great injury to the students. Thus, damage was reasonably foreseeable. Also, there was presence of causation as the loss so caused to Stella was also because of the breach of duty of care of Christine.

Thus, all the elements of the law of negligence, that is, duty of care, breach of duty of care and damages are present and thus Christine is liable under the law of negligence and Stella can make a claim against Christine.

However, Christine can take a defence of contributory negligence in order to mitigate his loss.

This is because Stella commenced exercising barefoot. It was only her who was exerting without wearing slippers.

However, no information was provided by Christine that why the slippers must be compulsory worn by the students. There was no information.

Thus, there cannot be any application of contributory negligence and Christine has to make good the loss so suffered by Stella.


Thus, in the end, Christine was fully negligent in her acts by not taking proper precautions while place urn and steamer. She neither makes any warning signs which would have made the students aware of the risk involved. Stella was not aware of the risk and thus she did not contribute to her loss. Hence, Christine must make good the loss so suffered by Stella.


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