Slip-and-fall accidents, while they may seem minor, contribute to more than 1 million injuries and 17,000 deaths every year. These accidents can happen in the home, at work, on a public sidewalk, or in a public store or place of business, and they can lead to a wide range of serious injuries.
Determining whether or not you have a case depends on two legal concepts: premises liability and negligence. Premises liability means that the owner of a property is liable for injuries sustained on the property due to dangerous conditions, lack of maintenance, or certain other factors. Premises liability can come into play in a number of situations, including faulty stairs, falling tree branches, wet floors, and improper wiring.
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Depending on the type of property (i.e. single-family residential, multi-family residential, commercial), there are different levels of liability. For example, the owner of a Walmart Supercenter owes a very high duty of care to the people who visit the property to shop; someone renting an apartment, however, does not have to meet the high standards that commercial property owners do. At the end of the day, property owners and landowners have a duty to tenants, customers, and visitors to ensure the property conditions are safe and in working order. Failure to do so could result in a premises liability lawsuit.
The other important concept to keep in mind is negligence. It is not enough to prove that you slipped and were injured on the owner’s property; rather, you must prove one of the following:
- The owner of the premises (or an employee) caused a spill or other dangerous condition.
- The owner of the premises (or an employee) knew of the dangerous condition and failed to correct it properly.
- The owner of the premises (or an employee) “should have known” a dangerous condition was present.
As you can see, you must establish that an employee, supervisor, or the owner him or herself knew about the dangerous condition—or reasonably should have known about it—and failed to do anything about it.
The most common defense against a slip-and-fall claim is that the injured person had a responsibility to know where they were going and protect themselves. However, it’s not necessarily that simple. Determining fault requires asking a series of questions, including:
- Did the injured person have a reason to be where they were? (In the case of a supermarket or public store during operating hours, the answer should be yes.)
- Was it reasonable to expect that the area they were in was hazardous?
- Were those hazards marked in any way, or otherwise so obvious that a reasonable person would not have missed them?
- If they tripped over something, was there any reasonable way they could have avoided it?
- Would a person exercising a reasonable amount of care have noticed and avoided the injury?
- Was the injured person paying enough attention?
An experienced personal injury attorney will be able to help you figure out whether or not there is clear liability in your case, depending on the circumstances involved and the evidence available.