Slip and fall cases can cause severe injuries and can be tricky to prove. Do you have grounds for a claim? How can you establish that another party is liable for your injuries? If you slipped and fell, whether in a business or private home, obviously due to negligence of the property owner, you may have grounds to bring a claim. In other cases, a victim might not immediately know who to hold responsible for a slip and fall accident.
That’s when you need to reach out to an experienced slip and fall accident attorney and get accurate answers for your case. Below we cover some of the most important aspects of slip and fall accident cases and how to determine liability.
Slip and Fall Accident Claims: Four Key Qualities
To establish your right to any slip and fall claim, you must be able to establish four primary elements, including:
1. The other party (usually the property owner) owed you a duty of care
A duty of care is a legal concept based on the idea that we each must make reasonable efforts to keep each other safe. The specific duty of care one has depends on their relationship to another person. When you lawfully visit any property, either public or private, you have an expectation of a safe experience, and property owners bear a duty of care to visitors to take reasonable steps to ensure a safe experience.
In Business owners generally have a greater duty of care to visitors to their properties than the average private property owner has to their guests. Still, all property owners must take care of necessary maintenance on their properties and make sure they eliminate or warn visitors about any potential hazards, such as slick floors. If another business operates on the property, such as a vendor that might set up for an event, that business also has a duty of care to visitors to that property and should not set up any equipment, including electrical cords, in a way that could present an increased hazard to property visitors.
2) The Liable Party Violated the Duty of Care in Some Way
Property owners who do not exercise due care, leading to a slip and fall accident, can face serious legal and financial consequences. Most often, a violation of the duty of care occurs through negligence.
For example, a property owner might violate their duty of care by:
- Failing to Perform Needed Maintenance. The average commercial property sees a lot of foot traffic, which may mean that it requires more regular maintenance to meet health and safety standards. Even private properties, however, require considerable maintenance to prevent hazards for residents and guests. Handrails and stairs, in particular, can pose serious dangers when they do not receive regular maintenance and care. Old, broken flooring, including flooring that buckles and warps, can also endanger visitors. If the property owner fails to take care of that maintenance, and it results in a fall, the property owner may bear liability for the accident.
- Failing to Clean up Spills and Liquid. On rainy days, patrons can quickly track rain all over a business. Many businesses also see heavy spill risk. Oils and chemicals can quickly make a floor dangerously slippery. If the property owner, particularly in a commercial property, does not clean up spills promptly, they may bear liability for a slip and fall accident. In the case of a leased space, the lessee must address spills and may be liable for injuries that result from failing to do so.
- Failing to Inform Visitors About Potential Hazards. Sometimes, property hazards are unavoidable. During periods of construction or maintenance, for example, some businesses may not be able to avoid having debris about a floor, or there may be equipment or other objects from the construction or maintenance that risk accidents. In such cases, the manager of the space might have to keep portions of the property blocked off from visitors. Private property owners may have damage to their property that they cannot fix immediately.
When a property owner cannot eliminate a hazard, they must warn visitors about then and allow visitors to decide for themselves whether they feel safe navigating those areas.
For example, suppose a private property owner had recently noticed damage to the stairs leading outside in the back. He has not yet had a chance to get a construction company out to handle those repairs. When you visit, he should warn you about the potential danger and not let you simply go outside whenever you like.
Likewise, if a business has construction going on in a particular portion of its space, it might need to block off those specific areas to prevent hazards to visitors to that property. If, however, the property owner or business fails to warn the people visiting, and those people wander into that area without awareness of those potential hazards, the property owner could bear liability for any accident that results.
3) That Breach in the Duty of Care Caused Your Accident and the Injuries Resulting from That Accident
To have grounds for a slip and fall accident claim, you need to show that the breach in the duty of care led to your accident and injuries. The simple fact that a property owner was negligent is not enough to establish a claim.
For example, suppose that you headed out to a hotel for the weekend. You took the stairs up to your hotel room instead of waiting for the elevator and discovered a broken handrail just as you put your hand on it. Because you noticed the hazard, you did not fall down the stairs, which means you did not suffer injuries, and you do not have grounds for a slip and fall accident claim.
Or, suppose that you visited a grocery store and noticed a spill in the juice aisle. You navigated your cart carefully around that spill and avoided an accident, then reported the spill to grocery store staff, which quickly posted signs and cleaned it up. No one suffered any injury because you all took steps to avoid a fall, so you do not have grounds for a claim.
On the other hand, suppose that, on a rainy day, you walked into the same grocery store. You shook off your umbrella in the entryway and, given the store had not put out any wet floor signs, you stepped into the store assuming the floor was dry. Unfortunately, past visitors had failed to dry their shoes properly, and the store had failed to mop up the rainwater they left behind, which you slipped on as you stepped inside. As a result, you may have grounds for a personal injury claim.
4) You Have Direct Damages/Injuries from the Accident
Finally, to claim compensation for a slip and fall accident, you will need to show that you suffered some kind of significant harm.
Take the grocery store incident from above, for example. If you simply lost your balance and slid forward, arms pinwheeling, but recovered your balance and laughed it off, you likely did not suffer significant injury and will not have a claim. Even if you hit the ground as a result of your accident, you may have picked yourself up and moved on with your grocery shopping with nothing more than a blow to your pride.
But many slip and fall accidents prove more injurious. If you can show that you suffered significant injuries or damages from your accident, you likely have grounds for a claim.
Common slip and fall accident injuries include:
- Broken bones in the hands and arms
- Broken hips
- Head injuries
- Back and neck injuries
- Severe lacerations
- Facial injuries
- Road rash/friction burns
Serious slip and fall injuries are likely to require treatment in a medical facility and may lead to substantial medical bills. Those medical bills, and the other direct financial losses from your accident, are the basis of your compensation claim.
Questions an Attorney May Ask About Your Slip and Fall Case
When you go to an attorney to consult about a slip and fall case, they will ask you questions to evaluate your claim. They will start with general questions about where your injuries occurred, what injuries you suffered, and who you think might be responsible for the accident. Other key questions an attorney may ask about your accident to establish your grounds for a slip and fall accident claim include:
Did you have the legal right to enter the property?
If you broke into a homeowner’s property, for example, and suffered injuries in a fall down the basement stairs due to a broken handrail, you likely do not have grounds for a personal injury claim. In most situations, you must have the legal right to be on the property to establish a right to compensation for any injuries that occur there. Your attorney may also want to know about any signs or verbal instructions you received which could have placed conditions on your permission to enter the property.
Did you commit a negligent or dangerous act that led to your accident?
Slip and fall accident claims rely on the fact that the property owner committed an act of negligence that led to your injuries. Often, that means simply failing in cleanup or maintenance. However, fall victims who behaved negligently at the time of the incident may be liable for their own injuries, even if a hazard existed. Suppose, for example, that you chose to horse around with friends while waiting at the grocery store. You stepped backwards into a puddle of liquid, causing your feet to fly out from under you. In that case, you might bear liability for your own accident.
Did the property owner have time to eliminate the hazard or decrease risks to visitors to the property?
Sometimes, property owners cannot reasonably take care of potential hazards fast enough to protect all visitors to that property. For example, suppose that a spill occurs in one of the back aisles of the grocery store. While employees usually make their way to those aisles several times a day, an employee does not stand in that location all day to wait for potential problems.
If a spill occurs, and you slip and fall on it moments later before store staff has had a reasonable opportunity to identify the hazard, the store might not bear liability for that incident.
Did your fall occur while at work or performing tasks for work?
If you suffer injuries while on the job, performing common work tasks, you might need to move forward with a workers’ compensation claim, rather than a personal injury claim. Workers’ compensation typically covers partial compensation for your lost income and partial or full compensation for any medical expenses arising from a workplace accident, which can make it much easier to manage expenses in the immediate aftermath of a serious incident. A lawyer can help you file a workers’ compensation claim to help ensure you do so in a timely and accurate manner and to ensure you receive the maximum coverage possible.
Did a fall hazard exist for a reasonable reason?
In some cases, fall hazards might exist because of a temporary emergency or other condition at the workplace. For example, an employer might need to run a water hose to help put out a fire, or they might need to run an emergency power cord to keep necessary equipment up and running. If a reasonable explanation for the hazard exists, it might be harder to make a slip and fall claim.
A slip and fall claim can quickly grow complicated, especially if you try to handle your claim on your own. Contact a slip and fall accident lawyer as soon after your accident as possible to learn more about how to determine liability and how to pursue the compensation you may deserve for your injuries.