Who is responsible for an injury resulting from a slip and fall accident? Many thousands of people are injured each year -- some very seriously -- when they slip or trip and fall on a wet floor, defective stairs, or a rough patch of ground. Sometimes the property owner is responsible for the accident, and sometimes he or she is not.
If you have been injured in this way, first consider that it is a normal part of living for things to fall on or to drip onto a floor or the ground, and for smooth surfaces to become uneven. Also, some things put in the ground -- drainage grates, for example -- serve a useful purpose there. So a property owner (or occupier) cannot always be held responsible for immediately picking up or cleaning every slippery substance on a floor. Nor is a property owner always responsible for someone slipping or tripping on something that an ordinary person should expect to find there or should see and avoid. We all have an obligation to watch where we're going.
However, property owners do need to be careful in keeping up their property. 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 general rules to help you decide whether someone else was at fault for your slip or trip and fall injury.
To be legally responsible for the injuries you suffered from slipping or tripping and falling on someone else's property, one of the following must be true:
The third situation is the most common, but is also less clear-cut than the first two because of those pesky words "should have known." Liability in these cases is often decided by common sense. 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.
Any negligence claim often hinges on whether the defendant acted reasonably. In determining a property owner's "reasonableness," the law concentrates on whether the owner makes regular and thorough efforts to keep the property safe and clean. Here are some initial questions you can ask to determine whether a property or business owner may be liable for your slip or trip and fall injuries:
If the answers to one or more of these questions come out in your favor, you may have a good claim for compensation. However, you must still think about whether your own carelessness contributed in any significant way to your accident.
In almost every slip or trip and fall case, you must decide whether your carelessness contributed to the accident. The rules of "comparative negligence" help measure your own reasonableness in going where you did, in the way you did, just before the accident happened. There are some questions you should ask yourself about your own conduct -- an insurance adjuster will almost certainly ask them after you file your claim.
You don't have to "prove" to an insurance adjuster that you were careful, but think about what you were doing and describe it clearly so that an insurance adjuster will understand that you were not careless.
To learn more about how your carelessness will affect the outcome of your claim, see our article Defenses in Personal Injury Cases. For a better understanding of how these types of cases work in general, see the articles we have filed away under Slip and Fall Claims & Premises Liability.
For a detailed guide to each step in a typical personal injury case, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim, by Joseph Matthews (Nolo).