I was wondering in the case that a customer accidentally drops an item in a supermarket that results in a damage, is he/she held responsible for paying the damage? What if the arrangement of the items has been in a way that has made the accident likely?
Breaking something in the supermarket would be trespass to goods - compensatory damages equal to the value of the broken goods may be awarded if pursued in court.
If it can be shown that the supermarket was contributorily negligent and/and or their conduct caused the damage in some way, then those damages may be reduced or negatived. This would be a matter of fact determined by reference to the degree to which their conduct contributed to the damage.
There is no contract in place between the customer and the shopkeeper so the only avenue to pursue is the tort of negligence.
To be successful the shopkeeper would need to demonstrate:
- The customer owed the shopkeeper a duty of care;
- The customer breached that duty;
- The damage was a legal consequence of the breach.
Where the duty lies is open to argument: it is clear the customer has a duty to refrain from damaging the goods deliberately (no bull in a china shop) and equally clear that they do not have a positive duty to protect them (I don't have to catch your Faberge Egg if it rolls off the counter); where the duty cuts in is somewhat ill-defined.
Similarly, what reasonably needs to be done or refrained from being done is also subject to argument. To fulfill the duty, the customer must do what a reasonable person in that circumstance would do - this will vary based on the type of goods displayed: a toy store should expect children to handle the toys, a fruit store should expect fruit to be abused by squeezing, a jewelry store can probably expect more from their customers etc.
In addition, the consumer can rely on the partial defense of contributory negligence - the damages payable are reduced in proportion to which the shopkeeper was negligent in the display and supervision of their goods. The consumer can usually rely on any WHS laws as a baseline here - if the display was unsafe in any way then the shopkeeper has broken the law and this may be leveraged into a complete defense.
I have been unable to find any cases on this because it is clearly bad for business to sue your customers. I did find this flyer from the Western Australian government: https://www.commerce.wa.gov.au/sites/default/files/atoms/files/damagedgoodsinfoforbusinesses.pdf