Ward v Tesco Stores Ltd [1976] 1 WLR 810



The claimant was injured when they slipped on spilled yoghurt in the defendant’s store. The defendant adduced evidence that they regularly inspected and cleaned the floors and had policies requiring staff to deal with spillages as soon as they were detected. However, they gave no evidence on when that particular floor had last been inspected or cleaned. The claimant sued the defendant in the tort of negligence.


To prove negligence, the claimant must show that the defendant breached their duty of care: that the defendant failed to act as a reasonable person would in their position.

Where it is not possible for the claimant to prove what the accident’s cause was, the court will presume breach 1) if the defendant was in control of the situation and 2) the accident was not one which normally occurs without carelessness. This is the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur.

The issue was whether these facts satisfied the requirement that the accident be one which does not normally occur without negligence.


The Court of Appeal held that this was an appropriate case for res ipsa loquitur. The second requirement is made out whenever an event occurs which is unusual and (in the absence of a contrary explanation) is more likely to be due to negligence than anything else.

Here, the area was under the defendant’s control and while it was unknown how long the spill had been there, it was likely that it had been there long enough to be dealt with. As such, this accident was one which would not normally occur without negligence. The burden of proving that it had not been there that long was therefore on the defendant.