Trolleys used at thousands of DIY stores and supermarkets have been declared dangerous by a top judge after a 79-year-old woman tripped over one, shattering both her arms.
Lord Justice Moses said low-slung, L-shaped, flatbed trolleys – of the type ubiquitous in Homebase, B&Q and other stores – pose a foreseeable risk of serious injury to shoppers.
The judge made his comments as he ruled Wm Morrisons Supermarkets Plc 80% liable for the accident that befell Jean Palfrey as she searched for pork pies at the chain's branch in Tavistock in November 2008.
After spotting her prize on the shelves, Mrs Palfrey, of St Anne's Chapel, South East Cornwall, called out to her husband and took two steps forward. She tripped over the trolley, which had been left briefly unattended by a shelf-stacker, and fell headlong.
The damage to Mrs Palfrey's shoulders and arms was so severe she had to spend three months in hospital. She remains disabled, with one arm shorter than the other, and it was over two years before she could carry out even basic domestic tasks.
Yesterday, Appeal Court judges awarded the pensioner £44,000 damages, ruling that the trolley, which had been left in the centre of an aisle when the stacker went off to help another customer, was dangerous.
Lord Justice Moses said: "Shoppers walking up and down aisles in supermarkets are expected to be attracted by what is on the shelves. They do not expect to have to look towards the ground.
"Mrs Palfrey was intent on indicating to her husband that she had found the pork pies and all of that would have deflected her attention away from the long, low-based, trolley."
Despite Morrisons' protestations that similar trollies are a common sight at stores across the country, the judge added: "The mere fact that this type of trolley is in widespread use throughout the industry does not mean that it is safe.
"Using such a trolley as this – low as it was and with the shopper's attention foreseeably at a higher level – was dangerous," said Lord Justice Moses, who was sitting with Sir John Thomas and Lady Justice Black.
He stopped short of ruling that such trolleys could never be safely used but said leaving such a low-lying trolley in the middle of an aisle "did create a foreseeable risk of injury" and Morrisons, who will also have to pay the legal cost of the case, had to bear the lion's share of responsibility for the accident.