No matter where you walk, you may end up at the mercy of someone else who is responsible for providing you with safe premises. While you can control your actions, you cannot control whether others act with the care required under the law. If someone has control of a property, and they invite you onto it, they assume certain obligations to you. It does not matter whether they know you or what their relationship is to you. If they violate these duties, you can hold them liable in a slip-and-fall claim or lawsuit.
Slip and fall accidents are the most common example of premises liability cases. Every year, over eight million people require some form of treatment in a hospital from a fall. Falls are the leading cause of hospital visits in the country. One in every five people who seek treatment at a hospital suffered an injury in a fall. Although Americans over the age of 65 are at the highest risk of falls, anyone can suffer an injury when someone else’s carelessness has made things needlessly dangerous.
In every slip and fall case, you are trying to find the responsible party, so you can file a claim against their liability insurance policy or a lawsuit against them. The responsible party will be the person who opened their property up to you, inviting you onto the premises.
The Duty of Care That Property Owners Owe to You
In a slip-and-fall case, the entity that owns the company that controls the property is the one that is legally responsible when something happens to a visitor. There are three categories of people who enter the property of another.
For each category, the property owner owes them a different duty of care.
- Invitees are on the property for the benefit of the owner. This is most often a customer at a store or restaurant. The owner owes them the duty to make the property reasonably safe and to warn invitees of concealed danger that the property owner knows or should know about.
- Licensees have received an implied or express invitation to visit the property. These are most often social guests. The owner owes them the duty to warn them about actual dangers that the owner knows of on the property.
- Trespassers enter a property without any legal right to do so. The property owner owes next to no legal duty. All they must do is avoid deliberately harming them.
Filing a Lawsuit Means Knowing the Liable Party
Figuring out the correct entity to sue in a slip and fall case is not always easy. The first thing that an attorney may do is conduct a records search to see who owns the property. Sometimes, owners have properties titled in the name of an LLC. Finding the owner can present difficulties. However, that does not always tell the entire story.
The owner of the property does not always have control over it. If they rent the property to someone else, the owner cedes most day-to-day control over the conditions to the person renting the property. For example, a shopping mall owner may not be legally responsible for the conditions in the actual store, even though they will still be liable for what happens in common areas.
The general rule is that a landlord is not responsible for their tenant’s negligence. For instance, if a tenant invites a guest, who falls inside the tenant’s apartment, the landlord may not be legally responsible. However, if the landlord’s negligence injured the tenant, they can sue the landlord. An example is a tenant slipping and falling in the common area of an apartment building. An owner of leased premises will only be responsible for injuries to the extent that it maintained control over the property.
Who You Can Sue in a Slip and Fall Case
Here are some possible entities that you may sue in slip and fall lawsuits:
- Store owners
- Condominium associations
- Local governments
- Restaurants and bars
- Recreational facility owners
In most of these cases, you will be filing a suit against a business or an organization for damages. Most times, the only way that you will file a lawsuit against a person is if you suffered an injury in someone’s home. If an individual employee was responsible for the dangerous condition, you will sue the company for which they worked. This is the entity that has the insurance coverage and assets necessary to pay for your injuries. Companies often have large liability insurance policies to protect their assets from a lawsuit.
Negligence Determines Liability in a Slip and Fall Case
The test for liability is the same negligence analysis that most attorneys use in every other type of premises liability and personal injury case. In a slip and fall, you must prove that the owner or person in control of the property breached their duty to you by acting unreasonably under the circumstances.
You have the burden of proof to show that your allegations are more likely than not to have happened. If you cannot prove your case, you will not be in a position to receive a settlement check.
Before you even get to the issue of the defendant’s actions, you will need to establish that they were in control of the area at the time of the injury. Then, you must prove that a dangerous condition existed.
When a Defendant Bears Liability for Your Injuries
Here, there are two ways that the defendant can be held liable for your injuries:
- They created the dangerous condition themselves - in this case, the property owner will always be liable if you were injured. It does not matter how long the danger remains.
- Someone else created the dangerous condition, and the property owner did not fix it or warn the public within a reasonable amount of time after they knew or should have known about it.
In the latter situation, the classic example is the spill in the supermarket aisle. Nobody expects the store owner to take action the second that it happens. Yet, they cannot simply let the dangerous condition remain indefinitely. Store employees must spot the spill and either clean it up or place a warning in the area to keep customers away from the wetness. If too much time passes, it is not unreasonable to say the store should have known about the spill, even if nobody physically saw it.
Other Dangerous Conditions that Cause Slip and Falls
Slip and falls go beyond just spills. There are numerous other circumstances in which a property owner can be liable, including:
- Frayed carpet in a public area, and someone trips on a loose string
- Someone leaves work equipment or debris on a sidewalk
- A store fails to put a floor mat out in a rainstorm when the floors can become slippery
- A landlord does not inspect and find a defective staircase or railing
- A local government does not repair a cracked or broken sidewalk
Proving Liability for Slip and Fall Injuries
To prove the liability for the foreign substance on the floor, you will need to show:
- The business had actual knowledge that there was a dangerous condition
- The dangerous condition existed for long enough that the business should have known of it
- The business should have discovered and cleaned up the substance
The above things are other ways of saying that the defendant did not use the reasonable caution society expects of a property owner. A reasonable property owner keeps things out of the way of people walking by, and they frequently inspect the property to check for dangers. If they find that something is wrong, they fix it promptly.
Evidence will determine the defendant’s liability in your slip and fall case. A plaintiff will need more than just the fact that they fell to get a check for their injuries. A slip and fall case is all about showing what the defendant knew and what they should have known. Your focus is on them and what they did or did not do.
Defenses to Liability That the Defendant May Use
However, there are some cases when the owner may not be responsible. Ironically, the bigger the hazard, the more the owner can argue that the accident victim should have seen it. For example, if a contractor left a large piece of equipment in the middle of a pathway, they may avoid responsibility under the theory that someone else should have seen it. A defendant can avoid liability when the danger is open and obvious. This is often an argument that a defendant will make those plaintiffs need to overcome.
Another key factor in whether someone is liable for your slip and fall injury is whether their actions were the cause of your injury. Not only must you prove that there was a dangerous condition, but you must also show that your fall was a “natural consequence” of that condition.
Even if someone else can be liable for your slip and fall accident, it will not stop them from pointing the finger at you. They can argue that you were fully or partially responsible for your injuries. Their claim can be that you were careless yourself and were not acting reasonably when your accident happened. You may end up needing to defend your actions at the time of the fall, even if you did nothing wrong.
Evidence that Can Help Prove Your Claim
In any slip and fall case, you must prove someone else liable for your injuries. If all you come armed with is your word, you may not be in a position to win your case. A plaintiff must show exactly how the defendant acted unreasonably and how it caused your injuries.
Some helpful evidence can include:
- Security camera footage of the area before your fall
- Maintenance logs that can show when they inspected the property
- Witness testimony from people who saw your fall or were aware of the conditions in the area at the time that you fell
- Photographs of the scene at the time of the accident
This evidence can be lost very quickly after your accident if you do not move fast to obtain it. An experienced lawyer knows the evidence that you need and the most effective way to obtain it.
You Need an Experienced Slip and Fall Lawyer for Your Case
Do not let the defendant bully you out of filing a claim if you believe they were responsible for your injuries. Even if you share in the responsibility for the accident, it may not keep you from receiving some financial compensation. You should always contact an attorney no matter what happens. If the attorney does not believe you have a viable claim, they may not take your case. It costs you nothing to make the call. Not only that, but you will not even need to pay an attorney at all unless you win your case.
Businesses and their insurance companies like to take advantage of their power to make your life harder and keep you from getting the money that you need after you have suffered an injury in an accident. The best way to level the playing field is to hire an attorney.
Slip-and-fall cases are not always the easiest ones to prove. Because they are so common, insurance companies often take a dim and skeptical view of them. While your case may be an uphill climb, it is one that you must make if you suffer an injury in a fall. Otherwise, the people responsible for your injuries get away with their carelessness, and you will have to bear the brunt of their actions.
Abels & Annes
100 N LaSalle St #1710
Chicago, IL 60602