A shopping trip, vacation, visit to a friend’s house, doctor’s visit, walking to the town hall, or cutting through a parking lot—these constitute a few of the locations where someone can suffer a serious injury in a slip and fall accident.
Keep in mind that while slip and fall may sound specific, you could sustain injuries in several different types of accidents that can occur on someone else’s property. Typically, when we think about slip and fall accidents, we think about snow, ice, and other wet substances. However, trip and fall accidents fall under the umbrella of slip and fall accidents. The bottom line: You have suffered an injury while on someone else’s property, and you bear the burden of showing who caused your injuries following this type of accident.
Understanding Premise Liability Laws
Every person who enters a building or visits a property likely has a reasonable expectation of safety. It does not matter what kind of building in which you sustain your injuries, what matters is your reason for being there.
Here is what you should know about how the law classifies visitors to another party’s property:
- Invited to property – visitors constitute the most common type of visitor to a property. This applies to individuals shopping at a retail facility, staying at a hotel as a guest, or entering an office building to attend a doctor’s visit. Invitees either receive a direct invitation, such as a friend who explicitly invites you over, or the property/facility invites the general public to visit, such as a retail facility.
- Licensee on a property – typically this would apply to salespersons who have entered a facility to conduct business. Unlike a shopper, this person enters the premises for their own purposes, such as selling a product. These types of guests expect safety but don’t receive the same treatment under the law as an invitee.
- Trespasser on a property – anyone on a property illegally has fewer rights than an invitee or a licensee. In some jurisdictions, however, trespassers do enjoy certain protections—for example, if the property owner did not post a “no trespassing” sign. (Similar rules to that of an invitee apply in most child trespasser cases.)
When you discuss your injury with a premise liability attorney, he or she will ask you more questions about your presence on the property to determine your visitor status at the time of the accident.
Property Owner’s Responsibility to Guests on Property
Since an invitee and a licensee both have a reasonable expectation of safety, it stands to reason that the property owner has a responsibility to ensure the safety of the property. Some of the conditions a property owner must give particular consideration to include:
- Wet surfaces – floors, sidewalks, and stairs can all become slick when wet. Whether a surface becomes wet because of people coming in and out of a door with wet feet, a sidewalk coated with ice, or a dripping refrigeration unit, if a property owner knows that a hazard would or could potentially cause a fall, then the owner must either visibly warn people who visit the property of the danger or must address the cause of the wet surface as quickly as possible.
- Frayed floor coverings – lifted tiles, frayed carpeting, or damaged thresholds may all contribute to slip and fall accidents. These can occur in nearly any type of facility, including a doctor’s office, hotel, casino, or commercial office building. This type of damage typically results from poor general maintenance. Whether these conditions exist in lobbies, hallways, or on staircases, they pose a serious danger, and property owners must address these conditions as soon as possible after becoming aware of them.
- Slick surfaces – we have all visited supermarkets and other retail facilities where someone has recently taken hours of their time to wash and wax a floor. However, this may result in the floor becoming overly waxed, and the bright overhead lights can often cause glare that causes shoppers to lose their footing. Property owners and the maintenance crews have a responsibility to post warning signs on freshly mopped floors, for example.
- Uneven surfaces – older buildings frequently receive renovations. Oftentimes, reflooring can result in a small lift or surface defect, which can cause someone to slip or trip and fall, especially if unfamiliar with the facility. In these cases, property owners may need to post a sign that states, “watch your step” to warn people of the hazard.
- Other issues – grease that gets spilled on a floor in a restaurant, wet surfaces around hot tubs and pools, potholes in poorly lit parking areas, trash left on the floor, and bottles of liquid fall from store shelves that may not receive an immediate cleaning, all of which can contribute to slip and fall accidents.
When you fall and injure yourself, the reason for the fall does not matter as much to you as who caused the fall. Responsible parties may argue that they did not know about the hazard before your injury, but that will not always get them off the hook.
Understanding Actual or Constructive Knowledge
Florida law clearly states the following: “If a person slips and falls on a transitory foreign substance in a business establishment, the injured person must prove that the business establishment had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to remedy it.”
Other states typically have similar wording, but in effect, it means a business establishment cannot bear liability for an accident that resulted from a hazard that the facility could not have reasonably known about.
One example of this would be if someone dropped a bottle of mustard in the grocery aisle, it broke, and you slipped on it immediately after, before anyone else noticed the spill, then the grocer cannot bear liability. The property owner could not have reasonably foreseen the shopper dropping a bottle and creating a hazard and had no time to remedy the danger before the accident occurred.
On the other hand, if you walk into a store lobby and suddenly find yourself looking at the ceiling, you may have recourse. If you slipped and fell on discarded food, a puddle of water that didn’t have a hazard sign, or a misplaced floor mat, someone in the store likely knew of these issues before the moment you entered the store. In this case, the store owner may bear liability for your injury.
Keep in mind, these statutes specifically require the individual filing the injury claim to prove the person or business knew about the defect or hazard and failed to take steps to address it promptly. This constitutes yet another reason why you should seek guidance from a slip and fall lawyer if you sustain injuries while on someone’s property.
Understanding Extent of Liable Parties
Injured individuals have many ways to prove that a property owner knew of a danger to support their premises liability cases. However, the property owner may not always bear responsibility.
Some of the party’s who may bear liability for slip and fall victim’s injuries include:
- Property Owner – in many cases, the property owner will bear liability for the accident. For example, if you go to someone’s home and you fall down a flight of stairs because of an uneven carpet, a broken handrail, or other dangerous conditions, then you will file your claim with the insurance company that maintains the owner’s policy. The same would apply to a commercial property in many cases.
- Property Lessee – depending on the terms of a lease agreement, the person who holds a lease on a property may bear liability for an injury that results from poor maintenance. For example, if you sustain injuries at a local shopping center, the property owner may not run the business in which you sustained your injury, but the owner may bear responsibility for all of the maintenance required in the store. The property owner may also bear liability for property outside the store, such as a walkway, which may pose a danger if wet or icy. A triple net lease would typically involve this type of situation.
- Maintenance Company – in some cases, a property owner or a property lessee may have a contract with a maintenance company to handle routine and other maintenance needs. Let us assume, for example, that one of the primary parties (property owner or lessee) requested the maintenance company to perform a specific repair, and it does so, but fails to do it properly, resulting in someone falling and injuring themselves. The maintenance company may bear whole or partial responsibility in this situation.
Only a few of the parties may potentially bear liability in the case of a slip and fall accident. You should discuss the details of your case with a skilled premise liability lawyer who can tell you more about who may bear liability in your specific case.
You should keep in mind that the type of facility in which your injury occurred may make a difference as to who may bear responsibility for any resulting damages. In nearly all cases, the at-fault parties will anticipate the claim being filed through their insurance companies. In certain rare accidents, a specific person may face liability when dealing with premise liability cases.
Insurance Adjusters and Slip and Fall Accidents
The indignity associated with a slip and fall accident in a public place, like a shopping center, would make most of us turn red. The embarrassment may cause some of us to hide in our homes for weeks. Regardless, you may need weeks to recover from your injuries, because these falls often result in severe injuries.
You can prepare for many accidents, even if it only requires a brief minute of bracing your body. When you sustain a slip and fall injury, however, you receive no such warning; one minute, you may cross the room or parking lot, and the next minute, you may find yourself staring straight up to the ceiling or the sky wondering what happened.
Your grief and aggravation will likely multiply over the next several days as you struggle to regain your physical health after a slip and fall accident. Compound that with a telephone call from an insurance adjuster—who has a single goal of making the accident partially or entirely your fault.
Adjusters receive special training to minimize the amount of money an insurance company has to pay out on claims. These companies don’t strive to help their customers—who can expect a premium increase following a claim—but rather to benefit their shareholders.
Insurance adjusters count on you—the victim—to not understand your legal rights. Adjusters will nearly always suggest that you would be better off without the assistance of an attorney. Do not believe this. Your chances of recovering maximum compensation increase when you have a slip and fall lawyer with a proven track record of helping clients recover compensation to cover the full cost of their injuries.
When you have suffered an injury because a property owner or other business neglected to provide proper warning of a potential hazard, you have the right to hold the at-fault party accountable. While no attorney can guarantee success when filing a claim, you should contact a personal injury lawyer who has deep knowledge of premise liability laws and understands how to negotiate successfully with an insurance company.
If you contact a slip and fall lawyer today, you can schedule a free consultation and find out more about your legal options. You can get your questions answered and make an informed decision about what to do for you and your family. During your consultation, you can discuss the details of your slip and fall accident injuries, ask questions about your legal options, and determine your eligibility to pursue compensation for the full cost of your injuries.