Slip and Fall Accidents Overview
"Slip and fall" is a term used for a personal injury case in which a person slips or trips and is injured on someone else's property. These cases usually fall under the broader category of cases known as "premises liability" claims. Slip and fall accidents usually occur on property (or "premises") owned or maintained by someone else, and the property owner may be held legally responsible.
There are many dangerous conditions like torn carpeting, changes in flooring, poor lighting, narrow stairs, or a wet floor can cause someone to slip and be injured. Same goes if someone trips on a broken or cracked public sidewalks, or falls down a flight of stairs. In addition, a slip and fall case might arise when someone slips or falls outdoors because of rain, ice, snow or a hidden hazard, such as a pothole in the ground.
In any event, the plaintiff must have sustained some kind of injury, however minor, in order to collect.
Proving Fault in Slip and Fall Cases
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, and 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 on someone else's property must prove that the cause of the accident was a "dangerous condition," and that 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, and 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, it must be shown that:
- The owner/possessor created the condition;
- The owner/possessor knew the condition existed and negligently failed to correct it; or
- 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 his 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. This sounds obvious, but many people do not realize that some injuries are simply accidents caused, if anything, by their own carelessness.
To be legally responsible for the injuries someone suffered from slipping or tripping and falling on someone else's property, the owner/possessor of a store, restaurant, or other business (or an employee of the business):
- Must have caused the spill, worn or torn spot, or other slippery or dangerous surface or item, to be underfoot;
- Must have known of the dangerous surface but did nothing about it; or,
- 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 property was careful by deciding if the steps the owner or occupier took to keep the property safe were reasonable.
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.
In residential settings as well, landlords may 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.
When a slip and fall injury occurs on property owned by a local, state, or federal government entity, special rules will apply. Specifically, there are very stringent notice requirements and broad immunity provisions that sometimes shield government entities from liability for injuries that occur on their property.
Getting Legal Help with Slip and Fall Injuries
If you've been injured in a slip and fall on someone else's property and are considering a legal claim, you should discuss your case with an experienced attorney. You should do so quickly, as there are time limits in which injured persons may file a personal injury lawsuit. You can even have a law firm evaluate the merits of your case for free.