Two Key Questions in Illinois Slip and Fall Cases

There are two key questions that must be answered in every slip and fall cases in Illinois. These questions determine whether the plaintiff can prevail in his case and what proof must be offered.

We ask every potential client two crucial questions which are at the heart of every Illinois slip-and-fall suit:

• What made you fall?
• How did that get there and how long was it there?

In order to prevail in a slip-and-fall case, the plaintiff must be able to prove that there was a hazardous condition on the property which caused his or her fall. Being able to answer the question of what made you fall is crucial because if the plaintiff cannot say what caused his or her fall, we cannot show that the defendant was negligent for either causing the hazardous condition or for failing to correct it. In cases where the plaintiff trips over his or her own feet or suddenly feels faint and falls, the defendant is not liable for their injuries just because the plaintiff happened to fall on his property. If the plaintiff or another witness cannot testify as to why the plaintiff fell, the defendant has no liability. There must be something about the property such a defect in the property or a foreign object or substance that caused your fall.

Because this is one of the critical issues in every slip and fall suit, we look to sources of proof such as witnesses, police reports, paramedics records, or emergency room records to help establish what caused the plaintiff’s fall. In one case we handled, the client slipped and fell in water on the floor of a hotel bar and fractured her hip. She neither saw the water or felt it while she was lying on the floor, but her husband saw it and felt it on the back of her winter coat as he helped our client to a chair.

The second crucial question, how did it get there and how long was it there, is important because the answer determines whether the plaintiff has to prove that the defendant knew or reasonably should have known of the presence of the hazard. If the hazard that caused the fall was created by the activities or business operations of the defendant, then the plaintiff does not have to prove that the property owner knew or reasonably should have known about the hazard. This affects the kind of proof that has to be shown in order to get a successful verdict or settlement.

For example, we represented a marketing representative who passed out samples of food at a grocery store on the weekend. At the end of the day when she went into the back room to put on her coat, she slipped on dried spaghetti noodles and suffered a broken hip. Pre-trial discovery showed that the hazard got onto the floor when a stock room employee tried to throw the box of broken box of dried pasta into a shopping cart used for spoilage, but missed and the noodles spilled all over the floor. We did not have show that the defendant had knowledge of the hazard because it was created by the defendant’s employees.

On the other hand, in another case where we represented a woman who tripped and fell on a broken city sidewalk, we were able to establish through the testimony of residents of the block where the accident happened that the sidewalk had been in that condition for many years and that the city inspectors had inspected the sidewalk the year prior to the accident and designated the sidewalk for replacement, but the work had not been done. That was enough to show that the city knew or should have known of the defective sidewalk where the client fell.

These two questions: what caused your fall and how did that hazard come to be are at the heart of every Illinois slip and fall case. As experienced Illinois personal injury lawyers, we look closely at this issue in every premises liability case we handle during the pretrial investigation phase of the case to help ensure that our clients secure a successful verdict or settlement for their Illinois slip and fall case.

Barry Doyle is the founder of the Chicago personal injury law firm of the Law Offices of Barry G. Doyle, PC, where he focuses his practice on the prosecution of significant personal injury and wrongful death suits. He is a 1994 cum laude graduate of Loyola University of Chicago School of Law and is a past co-chair of the Tort (Personal Injury) Litigation Committee of the Young Lawyers Section the Chicago Bar Association.

Copyright Law Offices of Barry G. Doyle, P.C.
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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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