If you've been injured after falling on someone else's property, you might want to know if you have a case. While many people assume that the property owner should always be held accountable for slippery floors and uneven pavements, this isn't an accurate generalization. Sometimes liability rests on the owner, but occasionally it lies with the injured party. When you can distinguish between the two, you'll have a better idea of whether or not you're entitled to compensation.
Property Owner's Liability
Determining fault in a slip or trip and fall case starts with establishing liability. You see, when you boil liability down to its basic elements, stores and other establishments have a duty to maintain a safe place for people to shop or otherwise hang out. In order to legally point the finger at the business after an injury, one of the following conditions must be proven:
1) The owner of the property, or one of their employees, must have done something to cause the floor or ground to become damaged, wet, worn, or torn.
For example, suppose a grocery store employee accidentally cuts a water hose in the produce section, leaking water everywhere. Down the street at the drug store, a shopper spills her beverage in the magazine aisle. In the first scenario, an employee caused the floor to become slippery, whereas in the second scenario, a customer did.
2) The owner or employee must have known about the dangerous situation and done nothing about it.
Suppose out of fear of getting in trouble, the grocery store employee from the above example tells no one about the leak, and fifteen minutes later, a customer falls and breaks her leg. The store would likely be held liable because the employee knew yet neglected to clean it up. Meanwhile, at the drug store where the customer spilled her beverage, the store's employees don't clean up the spill because they don't know about it. If an injury were to occur, the store may not be liable.
3) The property owner should have known about the condition of the floor or ground because any reasonable person would have seen it or noticed it.
If a customer spills a drink and a reasonable length of time goes by, the store could still be held accountable, even if the owner or employee didn't cause or know about the spill. But in some cases, even if the store causes the slippery floor, they aren't always at fault.
In this lawsuit, a customer slipped on a pot sticker, falling and injuring her tailbone. Because employees had been passing out food samples, the plaintiff's attorney argued that the store should have conducted frequent floor inspections. But the court actually sided with the store, saying that performing hourly inspections was sufficient.
A personal injury attorney might ask the following questions about your involvement, state of mind, and even sobriety at the time of the accident in order to determine if you're the liable party.
1) What was your reason for being at the scene?
This may seem like a silly question, but in order to have a case you must have had a good reason for being in the area where the injury occurred. Not only that, but the property owner must have had a reason to expect you there. To put it in simpler terms, if you were in a part of grocery store that is strictly for employees only, you may be considered liable.
2) Would a careful person have noticed the spill and either avoided the area or walked carefully through it?
Most people would notice water around a swimming pool and walk carefully through the area. But ice that forms on a dark sidewalk at the entryway to a store may not be easily seen, even by a careful person.
Also, being intoxicated or taking certain medications could affect your case. But luckily, it often comes down to proving the percent of liability. In some states, even if you were intoxicated at the time of the accident, if it can be shown that the property owner was more than 50% responsible, you could still have a case.
3) Were you distracted at the time of the accident?
Consider these two distinctly different scenarios. A woman is using her cell phone to send a message while walking down a snow-covered sidewalk. She knows the snow is there and instead of walking carefully, she's texting her friend. She could be considered the negligible one.
In another situation, a store has bright, point-of-purchase displays at the end of an aisle, catching the attention of a gentleman as he pushes his cart into the checkout line. He slips on a wet spot that he otherwise would have seen if the displays had not distracted him. In this case, the store could be held liable.
4) Were there any warning signs of the spill or dangerous situation?
Yellow or orange cones are generally a warning to proceed with caution or to avoid an area altogether. If you see these and walk into the area anyway, the courts might side with the property owner.
No matter what your situation, the best way to know if you have a chance to win a slip or trip and fall case is to consult with a personal injury attorney like Roberts Miceli LLP.