Slip and Fall Accidents Overview
"Slip and fall" is a term used for a personal injury case in which someone gets hurt on another's property. These personal injury law cases usually fall under a broader category of premises liability claims. Slip and fall accidents usually occur on property (or "premises") owned or maintained by someone else. The property owner may be held legally responsible for hazardous conditions leading to harm.
Many dangerous conditions can cause someone to slip and be injured. These include:
- Torn carpeting
- Changes in flooring
- Poor lighting, such as in parking lots
- Narrow stairs
- Wet walkways or wet floors
- Broken or cracked public sidewalks
In addition, a slip and fall case might arise when someone slips or falls outdoors due to:
- Rain, ice, and snow
- Other ground obstructions
The plaintiff must have sustained some kind of injury, however minor, in order to collect. Unsafe conditions can result in everything from minor emergency room visits to broken bones and traumatic brain injuries. While serious injuries might allow for the recovery of greater damages, an injured person can claim minor harm as well. The ensuing medical treatment bills will be a basis for claiming economic damages or actual financial harm.
Proving Fault in Slip and Fall Cases
Premises liability cases follow a common formula of negligence. Negligence is the legal term for carelessness. It generally has four elements:
- Duty: The injured plaintiff must show that the property owner had a duty of care to prevent harm to the plaintiff. For example, a store owner owes a duty of reasonable care to prevent foreseeable harm to shoppers.
- Breach: The defendant must have breached their duty by failing to make the premises safe.
- Causation: The defendant's breach (and not the plaintiff's own negligence or some other cause) resulted in the plaintiff's injuries.
- Damages: These are typically proven through medical bills or other evidence of injury. Medical expenses are a common way to prove damages in most negligence cases, especially premises liability.
There is no precise way to determine when someone else is legally responsible for your injuries if you slip or trip. Each case turns on whether the property owner acted carefully so that slipping or tripping was not likely to happen. It also depends on whether you were careless in not seeing or avoiding the condition that caused your fall. Here are some general rules to help you decide whether someone else was at fault for your slip or trip and fall injury.
In most cases, a person injured in a slip and fall must prove that:
- The cause of the accident was a "dangerous condition"; and
- The owner or possessor of the property knew of the dangerous condition
A dangerous condition must present an unreasonable risk to a person on the property. It must have been a condition that the injured party should not have anticipated under the circumstances. This latter requirement implies that people must be aware of and avoid obvious dangers.
In order to establish that a property owner or possessor knew of a dangerous condition, the plaintiff must show either:
- The owner/possessor created the condition
- The owner/possessor knew the condition existed and negligently failed to correct it
- The condition existed for such a length of time that the owner/possessor should have discovered and corrected it prior to the slip and fall incident in question
For a property owner or possessor to be held liable, it must have been foreseeable that their negligence would create the danger at issue.
In order to recover for a slip and fall injury sustained on another's property, there must be a responsible party whose negligence caused the injury. While this sounds obvious, many people do not realize that some injuries are simply accidents caused, if anything, by their own carelessness. Once we get past the issue of eliminating personal carelessness or some other cause unrelated to premises liability, typical defendants will be:
- The property owner or landlord
- The tenant or business owner controlling the premises
- The property management company
Common examples include homeowners, business owners/tenants of grocery stores, shopping malls, and other retail stores. Most of these establishments will have a liability policy from an insurance company. The insurance policy may be responsible for paying out injury claims.
In slip and fall cases on commercial property, there are often a number of people or entities that may be held responsible for someone's injuries. These include hotels, homeowners, and restaurants. Employers and employees in such establishments might also share responsibility.
To be legally responsible for the injuries someone suffered from slipping or tripping and falling on someone else's property, the defendant either:
- Must have caused the spill, worn or torn spot, or other slippery floor or dangerous surface or item, to be underfoot
- Must have known of the dangerous surface but did nothing about it
- Should have known of the dangerous surface because a reasonable person taking care of the property would have discovered and removed or repaired it
The third situation is the most common but is also less clear-cut than the first two because of the phrase "should have known." Liability, in these cases, is decided by common sense. The law determines whether the owner or occupier of the property was careful by deciding if the steps the owner or occupier took to keep the property safe were reasonable. For example, in certain circumstances where it's impossible to eliminate danger in a staircase, installing handrails or posting warning signs may be reasonable.
In residential settings, landlords may also be held liable to tenants or third parties for slip and fall injuries on rental property. To hold a landlord responsible for an injury, a tenant must show that:
- The landlord had control over the condition that caused the slip and fall;
- Repairing the condition would not have been unreasonably expensive or difficult;
- A serious injury was the foreseeable consequence of not fixing the condition; and
- The landlord's failure to take reasonable steps to avoid an accident caused the tenant's slip and fall injury
Many residential defendants have homeowners insurance. A slip and fall lawyer will negotiate with the insurance company before suing homeowners directly.
If you slip and fall on public sidewalks, that's government property. The same goes for government buildings. Suing the government is different from suing private parties.
When a slip and fall injury occurs on property owned by a local, state, or federal government entity, special rules will apply. Specifically, very stringent notice requirements and broad immunity provisions sometimes shield the government. A personal injury attorney will be familiar with these formalities.
Filing a Slip and Fall Claim? Get Professional Legal Help Today
If you or a loved one have been injured in a slip and fall, you should get advice about taking legal action by pursuing a premises liability claim. To maximize an insurance payout and protect your legal rights, you should discuss your case with an experienced attorney. You should do so quickly, as there are time limits (statutes of limitations) in which injured persons may file a personal injury lawsuit. Get started today by finding an experienced personal injury lawyer near you. Some slip and fall attorneys even provide free case evaluations.
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