Slip and Fall Claims
A slip and fall claim involves the situation where a dangerous floor surface causes a person to slip and fall and injure themselves. The party that created the hazardous conditions will be held liable for the slip and fall injuries. This is usually the person who owns the premises. Therefore, slip and fall cases technically belong to the category of premises liability in tort law.
Premises liability is based on the legal theory that owners of premises have a duty to keep their premises safe for people who use the areas in their control.
Owners of premises can include such parties as business owners, residential unit owners (landlords) and government entities. Different premises where a slip and fall injury could occur are in places where business is conducted, on private property that is rented to tenants, and in publicly operated areas such as sidewalks or roads.
Slip & Fall Cases and Personal Injury Law
Proving a slip and fall case in a court of law is like arguing any other type of personal injury case. To prevail, one must demonstrate:
- The owner of the premises owed you a duty of care (i.e., to keep the floors safe)
- The owner of the premises acted in such a way that breached the duty
- Their breach was the cause of the slip and fall
- Damage resulted from the slip and fall
Each one of these elements must be proved in order to win the case. If the plaintiff cannot prove any one of these, then recovery may be limited or barred.
Duty to Keep Premises Safe
All owners of property have a basic duty to keep their premises in safe conditions. Standards of care vary depending on the type of property involved and whether the person is a visitor or a trespasser to the area. For example, some laws require landowners to make inspections of their land, whereas in some instances inspections are not required.
Laws governing the duty of care vary from state to state, so make sure to consult with a lawyer to determine the level of care that is owed. If it can be proven that the person owned or controlled the premises, it is likely that they also had a duty of care.
Breach of the Duty of Care
The plaintiff must also be able to prove that the owner of the premises acted in a way that breached their duty of care. In slip and fall cases this usually means that the owner failed to do something, such as failed to sweep or mop the floor.
Also, issues can arise regarding contract workers who are on the premises. For example, if a contract worker is hired to install lights, and they made a mess that caused you to fall, courts might either hold the contract worker or the owner of the premises liable. Inquire to see if the owner is "vicariously liable" for their employers or contract workers (i.e., the owner assumes their liability).
Proving Causation and Damages
The owner's actions must be the cause of actual damages that you incurred. If it cannot be proven that the owner of the premises caused the conditions leading to the person's injury, then they cannot recover. For example, if the floor is slippery but the person slipped because they stepped on someone's foot, then causation might be difficult to prove.
In proving causation it can be helpful to take the following steps:
- Take photographs of the area in question
- Obtain information from any witnesses of the event.
- Inquire whether the owner knew about the conditions but failed to remedy them
- Research to learn if there has been a history of similar incidences on the premises.
Also, with regards to causation, people who use premises also have a duty of care to act reasonably while on the premises. If you are the partial or complete cause of your own injury, such as being severely intoxicated, your recovery can be affected.
You must also prove that you suffered actual damages from the slip and fall. This usually means that you were physically injured or incurred monetary costs. Damages may be calculated based an opinion given by a qualified medical expert or doctor. If you have incurred medical expenses or lost wages, be sure to keep receipts and financial documents of your losses.
Defenses to Slip and Fall Cases
If you are either the victim or are the owner of a premises being charged with a slip and fall case, it is important to know that there are several defenses available. Even if a slip and fall injury occurred, the property owner will not be held liable if they have any of the following defenses:
- Contributory/comparative negligence- If the person claiming the injury was partially or totally responsible for their own fall, the property owner might not be held liable. Depending on the jurisdiction, this may either reduce or completely bar recovery
- Assumption of Risk- If the injured person knew that a risk was involved, but continued to act and received injuries as a result, then they have "assumed the risk". The creator of the hazardous conditions cannot be held responsible
- Emergency Situations- Sometimes owners of premises are not held liable if the situation involved an emergency situation such as a fire or police chase
Final Points to Consider
Whether you have been injured by a slip and fall, or you are the party being sued, be sure to consider the following points:
- Whether the owner of the premises was the cause of the injury
- Whether the victim acted in a way that caused their own slip and fall
- Make an account of the incident as soon as possible while the event is still fresh in your mind. Obtain a medical report of your injuries
- Consider whether any defenses are available to the claim