By: Emily Stringer
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Proving Fault in Slip and Fall Accidents
If you are injured in a slip and fall accident, who is at fault?
This can be difficult to determine depending on the circumstances around the accident. Thousands of people are injured each year when they slip and fall on wet spots, uneven surfaces, defective stairs, etc.
When you are injured by a falling object, wet floor, or other common causes of falls, first consider that this is a normal part of life; water drips and concrete becomes uneven. Things like sewer grates and other things are meant to be on the ground. In those cases, property owners cannot be held liable for slip and fall accidents. Property owners are also not always responsible for someone slipping or tripping on something that an ordinary person should expect to find there or should see and avoid.
Owning property either a residential property or a commercial business requires owners to maintain the property to prevent these accidents. While there is no precise way to determine when someone else is legally responsible for something on which you slip or trip, cases turn on whether the property owner acted carefully so that slipping or tripping was not likely to happen — and whether you were careless in not seeing or avoiding the thing you fell on.
Here are some guidelines to help you decide whether someone else either a business or an individual is responsible for your slip and fall accidents.
For the property owner to be liable for a slip and fall accident, one of the following applies:
- The owner of the premises or an employee must have caused the spill, worn or torn spot, or other slippery or dangerous surface or underfoot item.
- The owner of the premises or an employee must have known of the dangerous surface and did not act to rectify the situation.
- The owner of the premises or an employee should have known of the dangerous surface because a “reasonable” person should have known the issue was a risk and would have fixed the slip and fall risk.
While the third is the most common, it is more difficult to prove because of the words “should have known.” In these cases, common sense decides liability. Judges and juries determine whether the owner or occupier of property was careful by deciding if the steps the owner or occupier took to keep the property safe were “reasonable”.
Negligence claims are often decided on whether the defendant acted reasonably, which is determined in the law on if the owner takes care of the property on a regular basis to keep to safe. The following questions can help you determine if the property owner or business is liable for your slip and fall accidents:
- If you tripped over a torn, broken, or bulging area of carpet, floor, or ground, or slipped on a wet or loose area, had the fall hazard been an issue long enough for the owner to fix it?
- Does the property owner perform regular maintenance? If so, do they have proof?
- If you slipped and fell on an object someone had placed or left on or in the floor or ground, was there a reason for the object to be there?
- If there once had been a good reason for the object to be there but that reason no longer exists, could the object have been removed or covered or otherwise made safe?
- Was there a safer place the object could have been located without much greater inconvenience or expense to the property owner or operator?
- Could a barrier have prevented the fall?
- Was the accident a result of poor or broken lighting?
If the answered “yes” to one or more of these questions, you may have a good claim for compensation. However, you must consider if your own carelessness contributed to the accident.
The rules of “comparative negligence” help measure your own reasonableness in regard to how the accident happened. Ask yourself the following questions about your own conduct at the time of the accident:
- Did you have a legitimate reason that the owner should have anticipated for being in the area that cause the accident?
- Would a careful person have noticed the dangerous spot and avoided it, or walked carefully enough not to slip or trip?
- Were there any warnings of the safety hazard?
- Were you distracted or acting in such a way that made the accident more likely?
Insurance adjusters will also ask the same questions. If your slip and fall accident resulted in your own carelessness, you will not be able to file a claim.