The extension of the Beldivis shopping centre recently opened in the suburb of Beldivis, Western Australia. The shopping centre is owned and operated by Stockfans Pty Ltd (‘Stockfans’). Stockfans are one of the largest retail property managers in Australia with a portfolio of over 30 shopping centres nationally.
The extension has a new shopping mall, containing a major supermarket, and a new food court. The food court has a number of eateries and a shared dining area.
There are three entries into the food court. Two of these are from outside of the shopping centre and the other is from a long corridor which is connected to the new shopping mall. The corridor contains toilets, parenting room, stock storage closets and electrical cupboards. The end of the corridor which leads to the shopping mall is open with no doors. There is a sign in the shopping mall which indicates that the corridor can be used to access the food court. The end of the corridor which leads to the food court has two double doors. These are fire doors. The side of the doors which face the food court has the following words printed onto each of the two double doors:
FIRE SAFETY DOOR DO NOT OBSTRUCT
DO NOT KEEP OPEN
The doors which face the corridor have the words ‘Through to’ and then a list of the names of the eateries within the food court.
Australian Standards (regulations governing safety within Australia) require fire doors in certain locations in buildings. The purpose of fire doors is to provide a barrier against the spread of smoke and fire from one fire zone to another. As such Australian Standards require that fire doors must be self-closing and must be either kept closed or held open with a mechanism (such as a magnet) which automatically releases when building fire alarms are activated.
For the first two weeks the food court was in operation the fire doors were kept closed and people would only open them to enter or exit the food court. However, people had been struggling to get through the self-closing fire doors with prams, wheelchairs, trolleys full of grocery shopping and stock deliveries for the store storage closet in the corridor. Many shoppers felt that the doors were supposed to remain closed and that they should not access the food court or corridor at all via the fire doors.
Greg, a tenant of the Stockfans’ food court, was concerned that the difficulties in accessing the food court via the fire doors were affecting the business of his eatery ‘BBQ Brothers’. Greg opened one of the double doors and placed a wooden wedge under it. This wedge kept the door open. Victor, who was employed by Stockfans’ as a security officer, noticed the wedged opened fire door but did not do anything about it. After Greg noticed an increase in shoppers accessing the food court since he wedged open one door, he wedged open the other door too. Now both doors were wedged open and the ‘FIRE SAFETY DOOR’ warning was no longer visible. Again, Victor noticed that the second door was also wedged open and did not ever close the doors or report the open doors to Stockfans’ management.
Sally, who had visited the food court during its first week of opening and had seen the ‘FIRE SAFTEY DOOR’ warning, noticed when both fire doors seemed to be permanently wedged open. Sally sent an email to Stockfans advising them that the fire doors were wedged open and expressed concerns this posed a safety risk. Sally received no reply to her email.
Around three months after the food court opened Greg was experimenting with some new BBQ sensations. Unexpectedly, some genetically modified lettuce caught fire! Other flammable material in the kitchen caught alight and a fire quickly spread throughout the food court.
Ronald, a cleaner employed by Stockfans, was at work in the shopping mall when the fire broke out. The smoke spread to the shopping mall much faster than it would have if the fire doors in the food court had been closed. Ronald suffers from smoke inhalation as a result of the fire. Unfortunately, Ronald has a rare genetic condition which results in the smoke inhalation causing a severe respiratory condition meaning that he must continuously use a ventilator to help him breath.
Since the fire, Stockfans has installed fire doors held open with magnetic locks which release when the fire alarm is activated in all its properties across Australia.
Discuss, in legal problem solving format, whether Stockfans will be liable to Ronald in negligence for their failure to implement a proper fire safety system.
For the purposes of this discussion you must discuss fully the elements of duty of care and breach in the appropriate amount of detail, given the complexities or lack of complexities that arise from this factual scenario (the abbreviated marking guide below will give you a hint as to which element is more complex in this factual scenario). For the element of causation, because we will not have covered this topic in lectures at the time you write your assignment, you need only briefly explain what the causation element is, what this means Ronald would need to prove and cite the relevant law. You are not required to discuss defences to negligence or remedies.
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