Proving Fault in Slip and Fall Accidents
It's sometimes difficult to prove who is at fault for slip and fall accidents. Thousands of people each year are injured from slipping and falling on floors, stairs, or other surfaces that have become slick or dangerous. Nevertheless, it can be difficult to prove that the owner of the property is responsible for a slip and fall accident.
Could the Property Owner Have Prevented the Accident?
If you or a loved one has been injured in a slip and fall accident, it may be tempting to pursue justice in the form of a lawsuit as soon as possible. But first, ask yourself: "Could the accident have been avoided, if the property owner had been more careful?"
For example, even if a leaking roof leads to a slippery condition that causes an injury, the property owner may not be responsible for the injuries if there was a drainage grate in the floor designed to limit slippery conditions. In addition, property owners won't always be responsible for things that a reasonable person would have avoided, such as tripping over something that would normally be found in any given location where an accident occurs. An example of this could be a leaf rake on a lawn in the Fall. Every person has a responsibility to be aware of their surroundings and make efforts to avoid dangerous conditions.
In addition, property owners have a duty to ensure that swimming pools, trampolines and other so-called "attractive nuisances" are secure. For example, swimming pools must be securely covered and/or protected by a fence to prevent children from using them when unattended.
Property Owner's Duty to Maintain Reasonably Safe Conditions
All of this being said, this doesn't mean that property owners are never held responsible for injuries. Although this isn't a cut-and-dried rule, property owners still must take reasonable steps to ensure that their property is free from dangerous conditions that would cause a person to slip and fall. This reasonableness is often balanced against the care that the person that slipped and fell should have used. What follows are some guidelines that courts and insurance companies use when determining fault in slip and fall accidents.
Liability for Slip and Fall Accidents
If you've been injured in a slip and fall accident on someone else's property because of a dangerous condition, you'll likely need to be able to show one of the following in order to win a case for your injuries:
- Either the property owner or an employee of that property owner should have known of the dangerous condition because another "reasonable" person in their position would have known about the dangerous condition and fixed it.
- Either the property owner or an employee of the property owner actually did know about the dangerous condition but did not repair or fix it.
- Either the property owner or an employee of the property owner caused the dangerous condition.
Because many property owners are, in general, pretty good about the upkeep on their premises, the first situation is most often the one that is litigated in slip and fall accidents. However, the first situation is also the trickiest to prove because of the words "should have known." After presenting your evidence and arguments, it'll be up to the judge or jury to decide whether the property owner should have known about the slippery step that caused you to fall. Either the judge or jury will make this determination based on whether it was reasonably foreseeable that you would have been injured under the circumstances.
If you have a valid claim of negligence for a slip and fall injury, you'll want to work out the types of damages your lawsuit is trying to recover, including medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. To get a ballpark figure of what your case may be worth, take a look at our damage estimate worksheet.
When you set about to show that a property owner is liable for the injuries you sustained in your slip and fall accident, you'll most likely have to show, at some point, the reasonableness of the property owner's actions. The following are some questions that you or your attorney will want to discuss before starting a case:
- How long had the defect been present before your accident? In other words, if the leaking roof over the stairwell had been leaking for the past three months, then it was less reasonable for the owner to allow the leak to continue than if the leak had just started the night before and the landlord was only waiting for the rain to stop in order to fix it.
- What kinds of daily cleaning activities does the property owner engage in? If the property owner claims that they are inspecting the property daily, what kind of proof can they show to support this claim?
- If your slip and fall accident involved tripping over something that was left on the floor or in another place where you tripped on it, was there a legitimate reason for that object to be there?
- If your slip and fall accident involved tripping over something that was left on the floor that once had a legitimate reason for being there, did the legitimate reason still exist at the time of your accident?
Carelessness, Clumsiness, and Comparative Negligence
Most states follow the rule of comparative negligence when it comes to slip and fall accidents and providing a defense to negligence charges. This means that if you somehow contributed to your own accident, your award for your injuries and other damages may be lessened by the amount for which you were comparatively at fault. This percentage is determined by a judge or jury. An example of a situation where comparative fault might be in play could be an accident where you were talking on your cell phone and not paying attention to a warning sign.
Like researching the liability of the property owner, there are some questions that you can ask of yourself to estimate how likely it is you'll be found to be comparatively negligent:
- Did you have a legitimate reason for being on the property owner's premises when the accident happened? Should the owner have anticipated you, or someone in a similar situation to you, being there?
- Would a person of reasonable caution in the same situation have noticed and avoided the dangerous condition, or handled the condition in a way that would have lessened the chances of slipping and falling? An example of this could be if you were holding onto the handrail while going down icy stairs.
- Did the property owner erect a barrier or give warning of the dangerous condition that led to your slip and fall accident?
- Were you engaging in any inherently dangerous activities that contributed to your slip and fall accident? Examples of this could be running around the edges of pools, texting while walking, jumping or skipping, and attempting to ice skate while in your business shoes.
If you've been talking with the insurance company about a possible settlement for your injuries, you'll probably be asked many questions that are similar to these. Although you won't have to prove to the insurance company that you were extremely careful, you'll probably have to show you weren't comparatively negligent.
Do You Have Slip and Fall Liability Questions? An Attorney Can Help
If you've been hurt in a slip-and-fall accident, you may want to contact an attorney as soon as possible. Because of statutes of limitations, which limit the time a person has to bring an injury lawsuit, you should act quickly. If you think you have a claim, you may want to get in touch with an experienced local personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
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