If you slip and fall in a store or in a business, how do you know whether you have a potential claim or lawsuit? And who would the claim be against? This article will discuss the different theories of liability for slip and fall accidents in stores and businesses.
There Must Be Negligence
A store or business is only liable for a slip and fall accident on its property if
- the store or business was negligent, and
- that negligence was a cause of your accident.
Simply because you fell in someone’s store does not mean that anyone will be found negligent. There had to have been an unsafe condition. Further, in order to prove that the defendant was negligent, you must prove that it knew or should reasonably have known of that unsafe condition. Learn more about proving fault in a slip and fall case.
Who Can You Sue?
A very important question in store liability cases is, who can you sue? This often depends on the nature of the claimed negligence. Of course, if the store owner owns the property, then in general the only potential defendant would be the store owner. But many store owners lease their property, so you might also have a claim against the landlord/property owner.
Sue the Landlord or Sue the Store Owner?
If you slip because of some structural issue with the building, your claim would likely be against the landlord/property owner. An example of a structural issue would be a water leak. If water is leaking from the ceiling onto the floor, that is usually the landlord’s fault. (Learn more about accidents on dangerous or defective property.)
But if you slip because of something that the store owner/tenant did (or did not do), then your claim would be against the store owner. An example of a claim against a store owner would be slipping on a floor that the store owner’s employee had just waxed, and there were no safety cones or warning signs to alert customers of the danger.
Important Issues in Slip And Fall Cases
Remember that there must be negligence in order to win a slip and fall case. The most important issues affecting negligence that come up in a slippery floor case are generally the following:
- Was the floor unreasonably slippery?
- Why was the floor slippery?
- If a foreign substance made the floor slippery, how long had that substance been on the floor before you slipped?
- Was there a warning about the slippery condition?
- Did you know that the floor was slippery before you slipped?
- Did the store owner or landlord know -- or should they have reasonably known -- that the floor was unreasonably slippery?
Let’s look at a couple of these issues in more detail.
Why Was the Floor Slippery?
In order to have a reasonable chance at winning a slippery floor case, you need to understand why the floor was slippery before you leave the premises after your accident. If you don’t know what you slipped on or why the floor was slippery, it’s going to be very hard to win your case.
If, for example, you tell the store manager right after the accident that you don’t know why you slipped, the jury is very unlikely to believe you two years later when, after consulting with your lawyer, you try to testify as to what the slippery condition was.
Here are some substances that can make a floor slippery:
- water, ice, or snow
- grease, oil, or some other type of lubrication
- a slippery foreign object like a banana peel or other food debris, and
- floor wax or polish.
As soon as you get yourself together after slipping, you should look around -- at the floor, at your shoes, and at your clothing -- to see if you can get any clues as to why you might have slipped.
How Long Had the Substance Been on the Floor?
In order to win a slippery floor case, you must prove that the defendant knew or should reasonably have known that the floor was unreasonably slippery. The longer the slippery condition had been present, the more likely it is that you can prove that the defendant knew or should have known about it -- and remedied the problem. The banana peel is a classic example.
If a shopper in a supermarket drops a banana peel on the floor, and you slip on it twenty seconds later, the supermarket will probably not be liable to you. Twenty seconds is not long enough for the supermarket to have learned about the slippery condition. But if the banana peel had been there for half an hour, you might have a claim against the supermarket.
Was There a Warning About the Slippery Condition?
Sometimes slippery conditions are unavoidable. For example, a store owner might wax the floors periodically. That is a reasonable thing to do. But floor wax is slippery. So, a "reasonableness" standard -- which governs most negligence cases -- would require that the floor waxers cordon off that area of the floor or at the very least put up a sign warning of a slippery floor. Putting up a warning does not automatically absolve the defendant of liability, but it is some evidence of lack of negligence. Conversely, failure to warn of a slippery condition on the floor is good evidence of negligence.
For more information, check out all the articles and Q&As in our Slip and Fall and Premises Liability topic.