A slip and fall lawsuit is a legal action to recover compensation for injuries caused by another’s negligence (that is, failure to take reasonable care).
To prevail in a slip and fall personal injury lawsuit, the injured party (the “plaintiff”) must establish these legal elements:
These elements are the building blocks in every case. The strength of proof on each of these elements determines the success of a case.
Frequently, the only witness to a slip and fall incident is the person who slips and falls. To succeed at trial, the injured plaintiff must be credible.
An excellent personal injury lawyer will explore every detail of the slip and fall accident with the plaintiff to ensure that the plaintiff’s credibility will not be a problem for the jury.
The dangerous condition is a major contributing factor in the plaintiff’s fall.
The hazard may be water on the floor of a supermarket or a subtle variation in the riser height of a stairway.
In each case, however, something caused the plaintiff to fall. On occasion, however, no apparent danger explains the manner of the fall.
In these cases, it is necessary to look at causative factors not associated with the premises, for example:
- The style and state of repair of the plaintiff’s shoes,
- The plaintiff’s age and mental state at the time of the accident,
- The plaintiff’s gait and manner of walking,
- Physical disabilities or impairments suffered by the plaintiff, and
- Outside intervening events could have caused the plaintiff to walk differently.
Slip and fall accidents that do not result in injury do not result in lawsuits.
An injury alone, however, is not sufficient to sustain a case. There must be a link between the hazard and the damage.
Furthermore, there must be a link between the existence of danger and failure to act on the defendant’s part (the property owner or occupier who is being sued).
When a plaintiff slips on the wet floor and breaks a hip on impact, the issue of the hazard (water on the floor) causing injury (broken hip) is relatively simple to prove.
To prove that the danger resulted from some negligent or careless act of the defendant is more complicated.
Whether the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, e.g., a duty to inspect, warn, or repair, is an integral part of establishing this causal link.
Failure to prove causation will likely be fatal to the plaintiff’s case.
The injury must be consistent with the plaintiff’s version of the slip and fall accident.
Occasionally, pain or embarrassment may cause the plaintiff to forget some facts or events occurring at the time of the fall or fixate upon a particular feature or condition, ignoring other essential facts surrounding the accident.
The evidence’s totality will help establish both the hazard and causation.
The defendant must have breached a duty of reasonable care before the plaintiff can prevail.
Care is determined by the custom and practice of the industry, legal code or statute, or ease and practicality by which some hazards can be eliminated.
In most states, the defendant’s responsibility depends on the plaintiff’s foreseeability of injury. Stated, if a condition is likely to cause damage, and the situation can be eliminated or the risk of injury reduced by reasonable means, then the owner or occupier of the property must do so.
Notice is a critical issue in slip and fall cases. Notice typically requires expert testimony regarding inspection and maintenance practices within the industry. The expert will compare the methods of the landowner to these standard or customary practices.
Reasonable property management implies a conscious recognition of a condition likely to cause injury. This recognition creates a duty to inspect the property for conditions that would expose the public to some risk of harm.
A failure to inspect may be negligence if a reasonable inspection would have discovered the dangerous situation. In effect, a defendant cannot hide his head in the sand to escape liability, claiming a lack of knowledge of the hazardous condition.
The proof is established if the defendant knew of the defect and failed to remove it or failed to use other reasonable safeguards to protect the public.
Notice is established if the defect should have been discovered through the defendant’s use of ordinary care.
An experienced personal injury attorney will devote their time and attention to learn about the details of the slip and fall accident.
Most of the legal issues in the case – duty, breach, causation, and damages – will revolve around the facts developed here.
Date & Time of The Slip and Fall Accident
The date and time of the slip and fall accident should be determined as accurately as possible. For example, periodic sweep and inspection procedures are often recorded. It is essential to know when the accident occurred relative to the last inspection, sweeping, or maintenance.
Emergency medical treatment reports or responses may also help document the date and time of the slip and fall.
This data can then be compared with the reported times and dates provided by the defendant (the property owner or occupier).
A conflict may indicate poor record-keeping, faulty memory, or more than one similar accident occurring in a short period of time.
Location on Premises
The location of the accident is an essential piece of a slip and fall lawsuit.
Some areas of a retail store are subject to increased tripping, slipping, or falling hazards than others and require more frequent cleaning and inspection procedures.
Falls on stairways present unique problems. Since the cause of the fall may be due to excessive variation in tread depths or riser heights, the exact location on the stairway is essential. Remember that the usual mode of ascending or descending stairs results in each foot being placed on every other step or tread. The critical dimensions, then, involve at least three contiguous stairs. Therefore, if the slip and fall occurred on the third step from the top, variations in the dimensions of steps one, two, three, and four could be substantial contributing factors in the cause of the accident.
Photographs of the site should depict the specific conditions, when possible, and the location of the accident within the store or on the premises.
Type & Condition of The Surface
The type of surface on which the slip and fall occurred should be analyzed as carefully as possible.
Material from which the surface is constructed may be an early indication of potential safety hazards.
For example, hard, smooth surfaces exposed to water or other liquids are likely to be slippery. Dirt, gravel, or other naturally occurring materials may not provide an even surface. Tile, brick, or paving stones may have missing, displaced, or broken sections, which could cause a tripping hazard.
The condition of the walkway is also critical.
Liquids, including water, are the most common contaminants causing walkway slipping hazards. The liquid must be identified. If this is not possible, then the injured plaintiff should describe the color, appearance (clear, oily, dirty, cloudy, shiny, etc.), area of coverage, and smell of the liquid.
Damaged or torn carpets and mats may cause tripping hazards. Therefore, the condition, color, and placement of mats are essential.
Broken, uneven, or damaged sidewalks and walkways should be described as fully as possible.
Has the lighting condition changed recently or been modified or repaired since the slip and fall accident?
Moreover, the time of day is vital to determine the amount of light available, the pattern of shadows, glare, and other conditions that could affect the pedestrian’s visual acuity.
Missing or nonworking light fixtures should also be noted.