“Slip and Fall” is the nickname for a subsection of Personal Injury Law dealing with people who are injured by slipping or tripping on surfaces such as ice, uneven sidewalks, unsafe floors, unsafe ground, objects on the ground, or flights of stairs. If you slip or trip on one of those surfaces and you are hurt by it, you might pursue payment from another person or organization for your injuries. In that case, you generally must prove “negligence.” In order to prove negligence, you must prove: that the person/organization had a “duty of care”; that he/she/it “breached” the duty; that the breach was the “direct cause” of your injury; that the breach was also the “legal cause” of your injury; that you were “harmed”; and that you had “damages” for which you can be legally compensated. That’s a lot of information to read in one sentence, so let’s break it down.
In the area of “slip and fall,” a property owner has a duty of care to reasonably keep the surfaces on his property safe. But what is “reasonable?” That can be a tough question to answer but generally it means that the property owner must take regular and sufficient steps to keep his property safe and clean so that people are not likely to slip or trip on his property. The property owner breaches that duty when the property owner or someone under his control (such as his employee) causes the unsafe condition OR knew about the unsafe condition and did not sufficiently repair/remove it OR should have known about the unsafe condition because a reasonable person would have known about it and would have repaired/removed it. The property owner’s breach is the direct cause of your injury if your injury would not have occurred but for the breach; in other words, if he hadn’t breached his duty, you wouldn’t have tripped or slipped and been hurt. The property owner’s breach is also the legal cause of your injury if it was reasonably foreseeable that his breach would cause you to fall or trip and be injured by it. You were harmed by the breach if your injury was “pecuniary” or cost you money. If you can prove that it somehow cost you money, then you can also recover for some non-pecuniary injuries. Damages assign a dollar value to your injuries and they typically include: medical care and any expenses related to it; lost income; physical disability; physical disfigurement; loss of educational, social or family experiences; emotional damages like depression, stress, embarrassment or strained relationships; and property damage. It all seems logical and perhaps even easy but any Personal Injury lawyer can tell you that those elements are sometimes very tough to prove.
Even if you prove all those elements, the person or organization being sued might raise defenses to avoid paying for some or all of your injuries. One major defense is your own negligence. Here, the Defendant (property owner) tries to prove that the Plaintiff (you) partially or completely caused your own trip or fall and injury by unreasonably going where you went or doing what you did or doing it in the way you did it. Did you have a legitimate reason for being at the unsafe condition that the owner should have anticipated? Would a reasonable person have seen the unsafe condition or a posted warning and avoided the unsafe condition or walked more carefully than you did? Were you distracted in some way? Were you drunk or high? Those are the kinds of questions raised when a judge or jury considers whether your own behavior was negligent. Whether or not the property owner was negligent, your own negligence can reduce or even completely negate any money you might collect in a suit.
The extent to which your own negligence will reduce or even completely negate any money you might collect depends on the laws of the state in which the suit is brought. Some states, such as California, use “comparative negligence”: they compare your negligence to the property owner’s negligence and assign a percentage of responsibility to each. Using this formula, the judge or jury determines the damages (dollar value of your injury), then reduces the amount you should recover by your percentage of fault. For example, if your damages amount to $100,000 and you are found to be 10% at fault, then your award will be reduced by $10,000 (10%) and you will be awarded $90,000 (90%). Some states, such as California, use a “pure” comparative negligence standard: even if you are 99% at fault for your own slip/fall/injuries, you are still awarded the remaining 1% of the damages. Other states that use comparative negligence are more restrictive: if you are 50% or more at fault, then you cannot recover anything, even if the Defendant (property owner) is as much as 50% at fault. A few other states maintain that if you are even 1% at fault for your own slip/fall/injuries, you get nothing; these stingy states are using “contributory negligence” to completely deny your claim even when the Defendant is 99% at fault. As you can see from this article, a “slip and fall” case can be complex; consequently, you should consult with a Personal Injury lawyer if you intend to pursue a “slip and fall” claim.
[Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information cannot be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither HandelontheLaw.com, or any of its affiliates, shall have any liability stemming from this article.]
Note from HandelontheLaw.com: This article is to be used as an educational guide only and should not be interpreted as a legal consultation. Readers of this article are advised to seek an attorney if a legal consultation is needed. Laws may vary by state and are subject to change, thus the accuracy of this information can not be guaranteed. Readers act on this information solely at their own risk. Neither the author, handelonthelaw.com, or any of its affiliates shall have any liability stemming from this article.