A slip and fall accident can occur anywhere. It can happen from a wet floor in the grocery store or because of a dangerously or uneven sidewalk. Not every situation gives rise to a legal claim, but valid slip and fall claims can be filed and settled.
If you have been injured because of a slip and fall accident, remember that it is a normal part of living for things to fall on or to drip onto a floor or the ground, and for smooth surfaces to become uneven. Also, some things such as drainage grates serve a useful purpose. So a property owner cannot always be held responsible for immediately picking up or cleaning every slippery surface. Nor is a property owner always responsible for someone slipping or tripping. We all have an obligation to watch where we’re going.
However, property owners do need to be careful in keeping their property maintained and in good order. While there is no precise way to determine when someone else is legally responsible, cases are decided on whether the property owner acted carefully so that slipping or tripping was not likely to happen. There is consideration whether you were careless in not seeing or avoiding a hazardous situation.The important factors are:
- The owner of the premises or an employee must have caused the spill, worn or torn spot, or other slippery or dangerous surface or item to be underfoot.
- The owner of the premises or an employee must have known of the dangerous surface but done nothing about it.
- The owner of the premises or an employee 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. Liability in these cases is often decided by common sense. Judges and juries determine 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.We evaluate this during our initial consultation.
Negligence often hinges on whether the defendant acted reasonably. In determining a property owner’s “reasonableness,” the law focuses on whether the owner makes regular and thorough efforts to keep the property safe and clean. Here are some initial questions you can ask to determine whether a property or business owner may be liable for your slip or trip and fall injuries:
- If you tripped over a torn, broken, or bulging area of carpet, floor, or ground, or slipped on a wet or loose area, had the dangerous spot been there long enough that the owner should have known about it?
- Does the property owner have a regular procedure for examining and cleaning or repairing the premises? If so, what proof does the owner have of this regular maintenance?
- If you tripped over or slipped on an object someone had placed or left on or in the floor or ground, was there a legitimate reason for the object to be there?
- If there once had been a good reason for the object to be there but that reason no longer exists, could the object have been removed or covered or otherwise made safe?
- Was there a safer place the object could have been located, or could it have been placed in a safer manner, without much greater inconvenience or expense to the property owner or operator?
- Could a simple barrier have been created or a warning been given to prevent people from slipping or tripping?
- Did poor or broken lighting contribute to the accident?
If the answers to one or more of these questions come out in your favor, you may have a good claim for compensation. However, you must still think about whether your own carelessness contributed in any significant way to your accident.
Your Own Carelessness
In almost every slip or trip and fall case, you must decide whether your carelessness contributed to the accident. The rules of “comparative negligence” help measure your own reasonableness in going where you did, in the way you did, just before the accident happened. There are some questions you should ask yourself about your own conduct. Keep in mind that an insurance adjuster will almost certainly ask them after you file your claim.
- Did you have a legitimate reason — a reason the owner should have anticipated — for being where the dangerous area was?
- Would a careful person have noticed the dangerous spot and avoided it, or walked carefully enough not to slip or trip?
- Were there any warnings that the spot might be dangerous?
- Were you doing anything that distracted you from paying attention to where you were going, or were you running, jumping, or fooling around in a way that made falling more likely?
You don’t have to “prove” to an insurance adjuster that you were careful, but think about what you were doing and describe it clearly so that an insurance adjuster will understand that you were not careless.