If you slip and fall in a store or any other kind of business, here's what you need to know at the outset:
Under a legal theory called "premises liability," stores and other businesses have a duty to keep their property (the "premises" in the language of the law) reasonably safe for customers and visitors.
In a nutshell, and in the context of a potential slip and fall accident, that usually means that the store owner and/or the property owner can be held liable for injuries if:
Let's take a deeper dive into this liability issue.
After a slip and fall injury, liability on the part of a store or business (and/or the owner of the property) usually only comes into play if someone was negligent in connection with the accident. Put another way, the "premises liability" we discussed above is only triggered when someone did something (or failed to do something) that created the hazard, or that allowed the hazard to remain for an unreasonable amount of time.
Get the basics on negligence, the legal duty of "reasonable care," and fault for an injury.
Any time there's an unexpected obstacle or hazard in a customer or visitor's path, a slip (or trip) and fall accident can happen in a store or other business. Here are some common examples:
The above-listed examples illustrate when a store or business might be liable for a slip and fall that occurs on the premises. But keep in mind that just because you fall on a business owner's property, that doesn't automatically mean that you have a valid slip and fall claim against the business, or anyone else.
Let's look at a few examples of when you probably don't have a viable slip and fall claim against a store or business:
Get the basics on proving fault after a slip and fall.
The answer here often depends on the nature of the slip and fall accident, and who might have been negligent. Of course, if the business/store owner also owns the property where the accident occurred, the only potential defendant would be the store owner. But many business owners lease their property, so you might also have a claim against the landlord/property owner.
If you slip (or trip) and fall because of some structural or hidden safety issue related to the property, your claim would likely be against the landlord/property owner, especially if the store or business had no way of knowing about the problem. An example would be water damage that is allowed to weaken the floor of a store over time, until a customer's foot falls through the floor tile. Learn more about landlord liability for a slip and fall injury.
But if your injury occurs because of something that the business owner did (or failed to do), then your claim would likely be against the business owner, whether that's an individual, a corporation, or some other ownership entity. An example would be a slip and fall that happens on a part of the floor that a store employee has just mopped, and the employee forgot to follow store safety protocol and place cones or other warning signs to alert customers of the temporary hazard.
Regardless of the scenario that led to your injuries, the success of your slip and fall case will hinge on whether you can establish that your injuries were the result of someone's negligence.
Let's look at a hypothetical case in which a customer slipped and fell in a grocery store aisle. The customer claims that there was a substance on the floor that made the surface unusually slippery, and before they knew it they were on their back, with significant pain in their hip and lower back. So how does the customer go about proving that the condition of the floor was the result of someone's negligence?
The key liability questions that come up most often in a slippery floor case are:
Let's look at a couple of these issues in more detail.
In order to have a reasonable chance at getting a favorable outcome, the customer in this example would ideally get some idea of why the floor was slippery before they leave the premises after the accident. Without a viable hypothesis as to the cause of the fall, it's going to be very hard to win the 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 six months later when, after consulting with your lawyer, you testify that you slipped on a puddle of orange juice.
Continuing on with the slippery floor example, even if the customer is able to establish the nature of the substance that was on the floor, they'll still need to prove that the store owner knew or should reasonably have known about the dangerous condition of the floor. 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. Let's continue on with the "puddle of orange juice" example.
If a shopper in a supermarket drops a quart of orange juice on the floor, and you slip on it twenty seconds later, the supermarket might be able to avoid liability by arguing that it had no reasonable opportunity to inspect the aisles, learn of the hazard, and take appropriate steps to clean it. But if the puddle of orange juice had been on the floor for half an hour, and you can prove it (through your own testimony and through witnesses) you might have a claim against the supermarket.
Sometimes slippery conditions are unavoidable. For example, a store owner might wax the floors periodically, a reasonable thing to do. But floor wax is slippery. So, a "reasonableness" standard—which governs most negligence cases—would require that employees cordon off the area of the floor that's being waxed, or at the very least put up a sign warning of a slippery floor. Putting up a warning sign does not automatically absolve the defendant of liability, but it certainly helps. On the other hand, failure to post any warning or take other precautions to let customers know of a slippery floor is fairly good evidence of negligence.
So far we've covered a lot of ground on how stores and other businesses can be legally responsible for injuries resulting from a slip and fall. But how does an injured customer or visitor go about making a claim for compensation against those at fault? There are usually two main options:
Keep in mind that the business owner's liability insurer would be on the financial hook for any kind of settlement, and any kind of court judgment, up to policy coverage limits. And these two options aren't mutually exclusive. You might file an insurance claim, and find that you need to take the matter to court and file a lawsuit. And any slip and fall lawsuit, once filed, can still result in an out of court settlement at any point. Get details on the typical slip and fall case timeline.
Every slip and fall case is unique, so it's difficult to offer any solid information on valuation without knowing about key factors like:
It's not always a good idea to represent yourself in a personal injury claim, but if you weren't hurt all that badly after a slip and fall in a store or other business, and the company's insurer offers you a settlement that you can live with, you probably don't need to get an attorney involved.
But if the store or business is part of a nationwide chain, with high-paid attorneys to fight injury claims like yours, having a lawyer on your side if a necessity. That's especially true when your injuries are serious, and the store/business or its insurer is refusing to accept liability for the accident.
Use the features on this page to connect with a personal injury attorney near you, or learn more about how to find the right personal injury lawyer for you and your case.