Slip and fall accidents can result in serious sprains, broken bones, and head injuries, leaving victims with medical bills and lost income. Most people are aware that businesses can be held responsible if someone falls on their property, but it isn't always the owner's fault. You must be able to prove they were negligent. But what exactly makes them negligent? If your situation meets one of the following three conditions, then you should contact an attorney to handle your case.
1. Property owner knew the danger was there but did nothing to fix it.
One of the conditions that must be met when proving negligence in a slip and fall case is an awareness of the dangerous condition. Specifically, the owner of the property, or one of their employees, knew the threat was there (or should have known) but neglected to take measures to fix the problem.
For instance, suppose you're shopping in a grocery store and someone ahead of you drops a bottle of ketchup, spilling it everywhere. They head to the front to alert a staff member as you round the corner and slip on the ketchup, injuring your hip. In this situation, it's very unlikely the grocery store would be held liable since they hadn't been notified about the ketchup yet.
In the same scenario, suppose the staff member learns of the spilled ketchup but decides to go on break before cleaning it up. In that case, the grocery store would most likely be held negligent in a court of law.
2. Property owner knew the danger was there but failed to take sufficient action to prevent an injury.
In some situations, business owners or employees know that a danger exists, but the steps they take to protect the public are considered too inadequate to prevent them from being held liable.
For example, suppose you're shopping at a store where you slip and fall on some water. You learn that the water came from a leaky roof and immediately blame the business owner. While in this case they may be found negligent, there are some situations in which they may not.
Many courts will look at how long the dangerous condition was present and how quickly it can be fixed. With a leaky roof, most business owners need time to find a contractor to make the repairs. So, if the leak started the night before during a heavy rain, it's not reasonable to expect the leak to be fixed overnight. However, that doesn't preclude the owner from taking measures to protect the public.
At a minimum, signs should be posted to warn shoppers of the slippery floor. Plastic placed over the leak can also be a temporary stop-gap measure. And placing containers to catch the water is another way to keep the floor dry.
If warning signs are not out, or if they're not easy to see (they've been kicked aside or knocked over), the business owner will likely be held liable. Also, if the leak has been present for an extended period of time and the owner hasn't begun to make repairs, they will usually be considered negligent.
3. Property owner caused the dangerous condition.
In some of the above scenarios, the property owner is directly responsible for the injuries. But there are times that slip and falls occur due to the negligence of the injured. In these situations, you typically cannot hold the property owner liable for your accident. In others, you may be held partially liable and win a fraction of the amount you're seeking.
Here are some questions to ask yourself:
- Was your behavior reckless (such as running through the aisles, texting while walking, attempting to "skate" along an icy parking lot in your running shoes, walking down icy steps without using the handrail, etc.)?
- Were you intoxicated?
- Were you in a barricaded area that was posted as off limits or had signs to keep out?
- Would a reasonable person have noticed the dangerous condition and taken measures to avoid it?
If you answered yes to any of the above, you could be considered partly at fault. But you should still consult with an attorney, like one from Putnam Lieb Potvin, to see if you have a case.