Slip and Fall Law - Handbook

What to know about slip and fall law and when you have a claim



Although many people slip and fall while on property owned by someone else, a simple slip and fall does not always give rise to a valid legal claim. Knowing whether a particular set of circumstances gives rise to a slip and fall claim requires the analysis of an experienced personal injury lawyer who is familiar with laws concerning premises liability. This handbook provides you with general information about slip and fall claims. However, to get the most accurate information, check with a personal injury attorney familiar with the particular laws in your jurisdiction.


What Is Premises Liability?

Premises liability is the legal term associated with legal claims in which one person seeks to hold the property owner or other party responsible for the damages that the victim has suffered. Slips and falls are one of the most common types of premises liability claims.

However, other types of situations can rise to a valid claim for premises liability depending on the circumstances involved in the case, such as the following:
·Inadequate security
·Inadequate lighting
·Defective repairs
·Defective construction
·Dog bites


What Types of Falls Are Usually Associated with Premises Liability Claims?

There are a number of slips and falls that may give rise to a premises liability claim.

However, some common fact patterns include:
·Defective stairs
·Rough patches on the ground
·Wet floors
·Slippery floors
·Uneven flooring
·Falls on sidewalks
·Falls due to icy conditions
·Hidden extension cords
·Broken flooring

What Legal Theory Do I Use?

Most slip and fall cases are based on the legal theory of negligence. This legal theory seeks to hold the property owner responsible for failing to act in a reasonable manner given the circumstances. The victim who is pursuing compensation for his or her injuries has the burden of proving each element of a negligence claim by a preponderance of the evidence. This means that the victim, through his or her attorney, has the responsibility of establishing that it is more likely than not that the events happened as alleged by the victim.


What Are the Legal Elements of a Negligence Claim?

Sometimes a property owner is legally responsible for the accident and is liable for damages that result and sometimes he or she is not. In order to be found legally liable for the injuries that resulted, the victim must usually prove the elements of negligence by a preponderance of evidence. There are four main elements to a negligence claim.

Duty

The first element is duty. This is the legal responsibility that one person has for another. In premises liability cases, duty is often based on the relationship between the property owner and the victim. In premises liability cases, there are usually three legal classifications of visitors.

The first classification is an invitee. This is usually someone who is invited on the property of another for the pecuniary gain of the property owner. This classification is usually used for customers. The property owner owes the invitee the highest duty of care. This usually involves making customers aware of any unknown dangers and taking steps to correct these problems and inspect for other unknown dangers.

The next classification is licensee. This is often a social guest or other person who has a lawful reason to be on the property of another person. Property owners have the duty of warning social guests of any unknown dangers on the property. They do not have to warn guests about obvious dangers.  

The final classification is trespasser. The property owner generally owes a trespasser no duty besides not trying to intentionally harm him or her.  

The classification of the visitor is a fluid concept, allowing a person to move up and down the classification based on the circumstances. For example, someone could be a licensee until he or she was asked to leave. If this person refuses to leave, he or she now has a classification of a trespasser. State laws also vary in regard to the duty owed to individuals based on their classification. To learn about your status when you were injured, talk to a personal injury lawyer in your area.

Breach

The second element is the breach of duty. This means that the property owner had a responsibility to act in a certain way toward the victim and he or she failed to act in this accord. The question of whether the property owner breached his or her duty of care is usually framed as “Did the property owner act as a reasonably prudent person would have under similar circumstances?” The determination of this element is at the core of a personal injury claim and is very fact-specific. More information on proving this element is contained below.  

Causation

The third element is causation. Simply because a person slips in a store does not mean that the store owner is responsible. There must be some link that ties the property owner’s breach of duty to the injury. Furthermore, this link cannot be so far removed from the actions of the injury that the injury could not have been foreseeable. The test for causation is that the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s breach of duty.  

Damages

The final element is damages. Even if the victim slipped and fell in a way that was caused by the property owner’s breach of duty, there may still be no recovery. The victim must be able to show that he or she suffered some injury as a result of these actions. This is often evidenced through medical records, medical bills and lost earnings.


How Do I Determine if the Property Owner’s Conduct Was Reasonable?

Property owners are required to take reasonable steps to protect their customers and guests from dangerous conditions that can lead to slips and falls. To determine whether the property owner breached his or her duty of care, the legal question is usually phrased as “Was the property owner’s actions reasonable under the circumstances?” To answer this question, it is necessary to delve into the specifics of the facts involved.


Did the Property Owner Know About It?

One of the first questions that must be answered is whether the property owner knew about the dangerous condition that could have reasonably been predicted to cause injury. For example, an employee may have spilled a substance on the floor and informed a manager of this fact.

However, it is often difficult to find out whether the property owner actually knew about a dangerous condition. However, the law recognizes a concept known as “constructive knowledge,” meaning that the property owner should have discovered the dangerous condition if he or she completed reasonable inspections.

Some factors that can help establish constructive knowledge include:
·The length of time in which the dangerous condition was present
·Whether the property owner had a routine procedure in order to check for and correct discovered hazards
·Whether the property owner followed such a procedure
·Whether the danger was obvious

The jury considers the evidence presented by the plaintiff and the defendant regarding knowledge to determine whether a reasonable person should have discovered the danger under similar circumstances. These cases are extremely fact-specific with precedent including discussions of the color of bananas that were on the floor and caused the customers to slip.

Could the Property Owner Have Prevented the Accident?

Another common question is whether the property owner could have prevented the accident. The victim may present evidence of safer ways that items could have been stored that could have easily prevented the accident. If proper lighting was functioning, an accident may have been prevented.  

Did the Property Owner Warn Guests About the Dangerous Condition?

Because the ultimate question is whether the property owner acted reasonably under the circumstances, any warnings about the condition are relevant to making this determination. If the property owner blocked off an area where the floor was slippery or put up a sign to warn guests or customers of this fact, the jury can consider whether these warnings negate any negligence on the property owner’s part.


What Type of Evidence Can Help Prove My Claim?

As the plaintiff, you must be able to prove your case in order to receive financial recovery. There are certain pieces of evidence that you can accumulate in order to help you substantiate your case.

A few examples include:
·Pictures – pictures of the accident scene, your injuries and your clothing. It is especially important to get pictures of the accident scene as soon as possible because the business may take steps to quickly correct the problem, erasing the scene that led to your injury. Often, proof of repairs is not allowed in court to prove negligence.
·Reports – make sure that you file a report with the proper department to ensure that your injury is documented and linked with the accident. Your personal injury lawyer can explain the type of information to include in this report.
·Witness Statements – Survey the area to see if anyone else saw your accident and get their contact information.
·Surveillance Footage – Your lawyer may have to ask for surveillance footage that shows how the accident occurred.


Were You Also Negligent?

In premises liability cases, the victim’s own negligence can also be called into question. In some instances, the plaintiff may be found to have contributed to the accident.

Some questions that the victim may be asked include:
·What was your reason for being at the place of the accident? Was this a legitimate reason?
·Would a reasonably prudent person in the same situation have noticed the dangerous condition in order to avoid it or taken other steps that would have prevented the accident, such as walking slowly around a spilt substance or holding onto a handrail on dangerous stairs?
·Were there any warning signs or barriers that were placed in order to prevent the accident but which you ignored?
·Were you doing anything that could have distracted you from being reasonably cautious?
·Did you participate in any other type of conduct that could have increased your risk of slipping and falling?

These types of questions are likely to be raised by an insurance adjuster in order to determine whether you helped contribute to your accident. They may also be asked during cross-examination if your case goes to trial. The majority of states use comparative negligence in premises liability cases. This means that if you helped contribute to the accident, you are not completely barred from recovery.

However, the amount of your award may be reduced by the proportion of the accident that was your fault. For example, if you suffered damages of $10,000 because of the accident and were 10% responsible, your final recovery would be $9,000 since you caused the other $1,000 of damages.


How Does Insurance Coverage Affect the Case?

Most businesses and homeowners carry insurance to protect their property. This coverage can usually be applied to cover liability involved in slip and fall cases if the property owner is found to be negligent. Often, an injured person can negotiate a settlement within the limits of the insurance policy. However, if the property owner is sued and the jury awards a higher award than the coverage provides, the property owner is responsible for paying the award that is in excess of the policy limit. Additionally, the property owner must follow the rules included in the policy regarding notice in order for the accident to be considered a valid claim covered under the policy.


What Happens If I Was Injured on Government Property?

Sometimes a governmental entity is responsible for a person’s injuries when he or she slips and falls on the property. Demonstrating negligence and the other principles described above are still required in cases involving a government defendant. However, there are often two very important differences between these types of premises liability cases and those involving property owned by a person or business.  

Time and Notice Deadlines  

Each state has a statute of limitations regarding the time in which a plaintiff must file a lawsuit before the claim is barred. However, the time for filing a claim against a governmental entity is usually much more restrictive. Additionally, filing a claim of this nature usually involves notifying the governmental agency that is being sued. There are very specific procedures that must be followed, including the proper information in the complaint and serving the governmental entity in accordance with the relevant rules.


Damage Limitations

Claims against governmental entities are often limited to a certain dollar amount, such as $100,000.

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