Slip and Fall Accidents Responsible for Significant Injuries and LossesFeb 3, 2017
Slip and fall accidents are a frequent cause of injuries and these injuries often result in significant hardship for those who are injured.
People who slip and fall can suffer cuts and bruises, broken bones, broken teeth, and head injuries. They can incur medical bills and they may lose many hours of school and work. In some cases, they may suffer permanent disability.
Many Causes for Slip and Fall
Falls are often caused by an uneven walking surface, for example, a sidewalk that is cracked or heaved up by tree roots or a road or parking lot with potholes. Icy sidewalks can be a problem in winter. Many communities have laws that require property owners to clear walkways within a given time after a storm but this does not always happen in a timely fashion and such laws are hard to enforce.
Property owners are also responsible for removing obstacles in the pedestrian path that might cause a trip and fall. Trash, construction materials, and items being delivered to a building can pose tripping hazards and should be removed from the sidewalk as quickly as possible. Poor lighting and limited visibility can also contribute to falls.
Walking hazards are not limited to the outdoors. Indoors, loose floor tiles or warped wood floors can result in a fall. Loose or uneven carpet or floor mats and rugs that do not stay in place or have curled edges can contribute to falls. Wet floors are dangerous. Building owners and cleaning crews must take care to warn the public of wet floors. Supermarkets present particular risks-bottles and packages break, spilling their contents in the aisles. Oily substances are particularly dangerous, but things like rice and cereal can also be hazardous. Restaurants, food courts, and movie theaters also have to be vigilant about spills.
Legal Responsibility in Slip and Fall Cases Many people believe that when they are injured in a slip and fall, the property owner is responsible for the medical bills and other losses. But the situation is not always straightforward. There are complicated laws for establishing when a property owner is responsible for damages following a slip and fall accident.
To be entitled to compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering, the injured person must establish a number of elements in a slip and fall case. Among the elements:
- a dangerous condition existed on the owner's property
- the property owner had knowledge of that dangerous condition prior to the fall
- the owner had sufficient time to remedy the defect prior to the accident but did not do so
- the property owner failed to properly fix the defect which lead to the accident
Because there is no exact definition of what constitutes a dangerous condition, courts must usually deal with allegedly dangerous condition on a case-by-case basis. Some conditions are commonly acknowledged to be dangerous, for example, ice and snow, and liquid spills. Sometimes the danger is structural, such as an improperly constructed staircase, or broken, uneven walkways.
Key questions in determining responsibility for slip and fall accidents are whether a reasonable person would have identified the condition as hazardous, and whether the property owner had ample opportunity to remedy the danger before the accident. Did the hazard condition exist long enough that a reasonable property owner or employee could have eliminated the hazard? Could the hazardous condition have been made less dangerous through such measures such as relocating the hazard, or placing warning signs in the area, or preventing access to the area?
Attorneys say that most difficult part of proving a slip and fall case is proving that the owner had prior knowledge of the dangerous condition. The proof may require obtaining information that is in the sole possession of the property owner. But the court will accept proof of either actual knowledge or constructive knowledge. Actual knowledge is established when the property owner admits to knowing of the dangerous condition. Constructive knowledge can be established if the injured party can show that the property owner should have known about the dangerous condition.
Prior knowledge of the dangerous condition is usually easier to prove when there is a structural defect, since the defect tends to have existed over a period of time. For example, if a staircase was built without a railing, it is difficult for the property owner to deny that knowledge of a dangerous condition. In contrast, when someone slips and falls because of a beverage spill in a restaurant, it can be hard to prove prior knowledge. This is a transient condition and the spill may have happened just seconds before the fall. Often, a defense to a slip and fall case may be that the property owner did not have sufficient time to fix the condition. For example a slip and fall claim made as a result of a fall during or immediately after a snowfall may be defensible based upon the fact that the owner of the property did not have sufficient time to remove the snow or ice.
Did the Owner Make the Property as Safe as Possible?
The injured party must provide proof that the property owner failed to adequately remedy the condition prior to the fall. There are situations where a property owner may have made sufficient effort to remedy a dangerous condition, but was unable to completely eliminate the danger. For example, property owners are not required to clear every bit of snow and ice from their property. If the owner can show that they made the property as safe as reasonably possible based on existing conditions, the owner may not be held liable for the accident.
Attorneys advise injured parties to document the property conditions with photographs or videos, file an accident report, and get contact information from any witnesses. It can be helpful to contact a lawyer as soon as to review the circumstances of the accident and determine if there is a case. The attorney can help establish the case through a property inspection and witness statements. The attorney can serve legal notice to the property owner to preserve evidence such as footage from video surveillance cameras.
Legal Help for Those Injured in a Slip and Fall
If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident, the attorneys at Parker Waichman LLP can provide a free, no obligation case evaluation. To reach the firm, fill out the contact form or call 1-800-YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529).