Everyone has slipped (or tripped) and fallen down at some point in their life. Most of the time, these falls are chalked up to not being careful, not paying attention, or simply being clumsy. But occasionally these types of falls happen because of a hazard -- of one kind or another -- on someone else’s property.
Just because a person falls on someone else’s property does not necessarily make the property owner legally responsible for any resulting injuries. But in some instances, owners of both private and commercial property can be held liable.
If you were injured from a fall on someone else’s property, the information below should help you decide whether you have a valid personal injury claim for slip and fall.
Was There an Unsafe Condition on the Property?
In order for the property owner to be liable, an unsafe condition must have caused the fall. It is not enough to simply slip, or stumble, while on someone else’s property. Examples of unsafe conditions are
- accumulation of snow and ice
- wet and slippery floors
- a badly damaged sidewalk
- potholes, or
The landowner must have also caused the unsafe condition -- or allowed it to persist.
It is important to note that property owners do not necessarily have to make their property perfectly safe. They are only required to make their property reasonably safe.
For example, after a snowstorm, a property owner is usually required to take measures to clear snow and ice from sidewalks that other people are likely to use. However, they are not required to make the sidewalks perfectly dry and clear. For this reason, a slip and fall immediately after a snow storm is not likely to give rise to a valid claim.
Learn more about Proving Fault for Accidents on Dangerous or Defective Property.
Did the Property Owner Have Notice?
A property owner will not be responsible for a dangerous condition that he or she is unaware of. Property owners are entitled to a reasonable amount of time to discover dangerous conditions. For example, if a child in a grocery store drops some grapes on the floor, and a person immediately slips and falls on the grapes, the grocery store owner will probably not be liable for injuries resulting from the fall.
Notice is one of the most difficult things to prove in a slip and fall case. If the fall occurs on business property, the business will likely generate an incident report afterwards. Incident reports often identify the cause of an incident and may provide insight into how long a property owner was aware of a dangerous condition that caused a fall.
There may also be surveillance video of the area where the fall took place, and this footage should show how much time was allowed to lapse after the dangerous condition arose. Incident reports and surveillance videos are often critical pieces of evidence when you’re trying to prove that a property owner was (or should have been) on notice of a dangerous condition.
Was a Warning Posted?
If a property owner is aware of a dangerous condition, and they cannot remedy the problem immediately, they are usually required to warn people of the danger. For example, if a public sidewalk is under construction, the municipality where the sidewalk is located must warn people of any dangers the construction poses, through the use of signage, roped-off areas, etc. Or, a store owner must warn people of the slipperiness of recently mopped floors by setting out “Caution” cones.
Property owners are usually not responsible for slip and fall injuries if the dangerous condition on the property was open and obvious. For example, if there is a large hole in a sidewalk, you will probably be expected to see and avoid the hole. People are also expected to use reasonable care to prevent their own injuries. For instance, if on a freezing day you can clearly see that a hill is steep and covered in ice; you are expected to take care to avoid the dangerous condition. If you’re found to bear some level of legal liability in connection with your own injuries, that could end up having a negative impact on any personal injury claim you decide to pursue.
Something Else to Consider
Before you pursue a slip and fall claim, it is worth considering the seriousness of the resulting injuries. Making a claim with a property owner’s insurance company can be a hassle. (Learn more about Slip and Fall Claims and Homeowners' Insurance.) If you are unable to resolve your claim with the insurance company, you will probably need to file a lawsuit. Litigation can be expensive and time consuming. It’s also likely that you will have to give a deposition, which can be grueling. Litigation is almost always a stressful experience.
Before making a claim, or filing a lawsuit, it is worth considering whether the injury is worth the hassle. If the injury is a bruised knee, or a slightly sprained ankle, it may not be worth it. However, if the injury is a broken arm, or injured spine, it is probably worth making a claim or filing a lawsuit.
If you were injured from a fall on someone else’s property, and you believe you may have a valid claim, your best course of action is to contact a lawyer who specializes in slip and fall cases. An experienced lawyer can inform you of local laws that may apply, and can offer a quick assessment of the validity of your claim.