Have you suffered from a slip and fall at a business establishment or public retail store? Many people find themselves in a painful situation after they fall at a business establishment, retail store, apartment complex, or public area. Whose fault is it? The law on this type of situation is complex and even can be unfair at times. This is why you need an experienced slip and fall attorney to consult with you about your specific situation.
First, understand that premises liability is the law that governs slip and fall accidents and determines who is at fault for them. You have to understand that there is no cut-and-dry way to determine fault in a slip and fall accident. Every premises liability case is evaluated on an individual basis and considers whether or not the property owner took precautions to make the area safe. In addition, the injured person who fell is going to be scrutinized for being careless, and possibly contributing to the slip and fall accident. For example, a hotel is not necessarily liable should you fall on a wet floor in the restroom if the area was clearly marked with a yellow “caution” sign. It will be asked: “Why didn’t you see the big yellow sign in the middle of the floor?”
Is the Property Owner Liable for Your Slip and Fall Accident?
Maybe…maybe not. These can be difficult cases in Texas. I know that’s the answer injured people DON’T want to hear.
A victim would have to prove the following in order to hold the property owner responsible and have a premises liability case:
- That the property owner caused the unsafe condition and the subsequent slip and fall accident (by spilling something and not cleaning it up, by digging a hard-to-spot hole in a heavily trafficked area, etc.)
- That the property owner knew about the condition but did not try to correct it (by not posting a sign on uneven ground, by ignoring a dangerous condition that they knew about, etc.)
- That the property owner should have known about the danger, because a “reasonable” person would have found the problem and taken steps to prevent injuries caused by the slip and fall accident (this is the most common situation, as it is not clearly defined and is determined based on common sense)
Defining the “Reasonable” Person
When determining if a property owner’s actions were in fact reasonable, the court must consider how long the unsafe condition that contributed to the slip and fall accident existed and whether the owner had time to discover and ultimately fix the problem. For example, if a well known merchant who sold eggs had an employee who dropped two eggs in the middle of the floor but failed to clean it up for five minutes, is that reasonable? What if the employee ignored the broken eggs on the floor for two hours? Is that reasonable? The court must also consider whether the steps taken were appropriate or reasonable and whether the carelessness of the victim contributed to the slip and fall injury.
Be aware, though, that the reasonable person standard applies not only to the property owner, but also to the victim. If the victim was somewhere he or she should not have been or was engaged in an inappropriate activity, the property owner may be absolved of any responsibility/premises liability. For example, if you wander off marked paths or skateboard down stairs, you may bear responsibility for your own slip and fall accidents. Likewise, if a reasonable person would have seen a spill, hole, or other problem and been able to avoid it, the victim’s own carelessness and not the property owner’s negligence may be at fault.
Questions to Ask Yourself in Determining Fault in a Slip and Fall Accident
To help determine who is to blame for your slip and fall injury, try asking yourself the following questions:
- If you slipped on a spill in a store, had it been there long enough that the property owner should have been aware of it?
- What did you slip on?
- Has the property owner instated a standard cleaning/maintenance schedule for the premises and if so, can he offer proof?
- If, for example, you tripped over a stack of boxes beside a shelf in a grocery store, was there a good reason for them to have been there? Could they have been safely and conveniently placed elsewhere?
- Is there a safe place that the boxes could have been placed, or could the slip and fall accident have been prevented had there been a proper barrier or warning sign?
- Was the slip and fall accident caused, at least in part, by poor or dim lighting?
- Did you have a valid excuse for being at the site of the slip and fall accident?
- Were you paying full attention at the time of the slip and fall accident?
- Was the area properly labeled?
- Would the reasonable person have been able to avoid the slip and fall accident?
Of course, only a qualified personal injury lawyer who specializes in premises liability can truly help you determine if you have a case.
There are some exceptions to general slip and fall and premises liability cases. They include:
Trespassers: Property owners are not necessarily subject to premises liability laws when it comes to injuries incurred by trespassers on their property. This is also true of burglars and other uninvited guests.
Children: Children are an exception to the trespassing rule because the law acknowledges that children often do not perceive danger as well as adults. A property owner must take steps to ensure the safety of children who play in the area, even if they are not supposed to be there.
Workplace accidents: Currently, there are workers’ compensation laws in place that hold employers strictly liable for most on-the-job injuries, including those resulting from slip and fall accidents that their employees suffer. However, the amount of damages that the injured can collect is limited.
Government property: In cases of government property, such as public parks, the federal or state government may bear legal responsibility for personal injuries incurred on the premises. Slip and fall/premises liability cases against the government are covered by either the Federal Tort Claims Act or similar state tort claims acts. Cases must be brought within a certain time limit.
The U.S. Department of Labor has compiled these tips for helping property owners avoid the liability of fall-down accidents. While many pertain to businesses and places of employment, some are also applicable for residential property owners as well.
- Keep floors clean and dry. In addition to being a slip hazard, continually wet surfaces promote the growth of mold, fungi, and bacteria that can cause infections.
- Provide warning signs for wet floor areas.
- Where wet processes are used, maintain drainage and provide false floors, platforms, mats, or other dry standing places where practicable, or provide appropriate waterproof footgear. Walking/Working Surfaces Standard requires all businesses to keep all places of employment clean and orderly and in a sanitary condition.
- Keep aisles and passageways clear and in good repair, with no obstruction across or in aisles that could create a hazard.
- Provide floor plugs for equipment so power cords need not run across pathways.
- Keep exits free from obstruction at all times.
The U.S. Department of Labor has also compiled a list of other recommended good work practices that are mainly applicable to businesses and places of employment, but are also useful for homeowners and people doing remodeling work on their homes:
- Ensure spills are reported and cleaned up immediately. At home, if you spill something, clean it up right away so your family members and visitors don’t slip and fall.
- Use no-skid waxes and surfaces coated with grit to create non-slip surfaces in slippery areas such as toilet and shower areas.
- Use waterproof footgear on the job and at home to decrease slip/fall hazards.
- Use only properly maintained ladders to reach items, whether you are at work or at home. Do not use stools, chairs, or boxes as substitutes for ladders.
- Re-lay or stretch carpets that bulge or have become bunched to prevent tripping hazards.
- Aisles and passageways should be sufficiently wide for easy movement and should be kept clear at all times. Temporary electrical cords that cross aisles should be taped or otherwise anchored to the floor.
- Clean up cluttered or obstructed work areas or play areas. A lot of injuries in a private home have been the result of toys scattered in a play area that someone slips or trips over.
- Nurse station countertops or medication carts should be free of sharp, square corners. This is also true of homes. Eliminate furniture that has sharp, square corners.
- Use prudent housekeeping procedures such as cleaning only one side of a passageway at a time, and provide good lighting for all garages, halls, basements and stairwells to help reduce accidents.
- Provide adequate lighting, especially during night hours. You can use flashlights or low-level lighting when entering patient rooms or other areas where turning on the light may disturb whoever else is in the room.
- Instruct workers and other visitors on your property to use the handrail on stairs, to avoid undue speed, and to maintain an unobstructed view of the stairs ahead of them even if that means requesting help to manage a bulky load. Clearly posted signs may help reduce your liability as a property owner.
- Eliminate uneven floor surfaces that could cause someone to trip and get injured.
- Promote safe work habits in cramped spaces, whether on the job or at home. Avoid awkward positions, and use equipment that makes lifting less awkward.
An accident report should be completed at the time of the incident noting what happened, who witnessed both the accident and the conditions that caused the fall, along with any other relevant information such as lighting, weather (if accident occurred outdoors) or hidden hazards. The requirement for a report is generally a store or business policy, rather than mandated by law. However, the timely reporting of the accident is most beneficial for all involved parties.
If a report is not completed at the business location, occurred on a public street or sidewalk, occurred at a private location or was not observed by others, take the time to write down your recollection of what happened as soon as you possibly can. Information you gather immediately or soon after the accident occurs is much more accurate than any gathered later on. Besides, timely recording of your recollection will help make your claim stronger. Include information such as:
- Date and time the fall-down accident occurred
- A description of the circumstances surrounding the accident, such as grease or water being on the floor and there not being any signs warning you that the floor may be slippery
- Who was present at the time the fall-down accident occurred and a written record of the comments made by those who saw or helped after the fall
- If possible, take photos of the area as soon after the accident occurred as possible, and
- If you were physically hurt, have your injury treated immediately to help substantiate your slip and fall/trip and fall personal injury lawsuit. If treatment is delayed, the property owner may argue that it was not his or her negligence that caused your injury, but rather something that occurred between the time of the fall-down accident and your visit to the doctor.
Both the property owner and the injured person may be held to varying degrees of responsibility for an injury. The property owner has a responsibility to keep property safe. Each person has a duty to watch where they are going, as well as realize that there are things that fall or spill onto walking surfaces. However, there is no way a person can anticipate all hazards. Besides, there are many cases where the residential or commercial property owner, or local, city, state or federal government entity is 100% at fault. For example, how many times have you seen missing manhole or utility covers from streets and sidewalks? Those types of hazards are extremely difficult to anticipate and they typically result in debilitating injuries.
If you are injured in a slip and fall accident, contact my firm right away to learn your legal rights and options. Time limitations may apply, so contact us as quickly as possible. Also, if the at-fault party is a local, city, state or federal government entity, different laws may apply which may affect your rights as an injured person. Don’t delay, as delays could affect your potential eligibility for a claim.
Commonly Asked Slip and Fall Accident Questions:
- What to do after an accident?
- Should I make a report?
- Who will pay for my medical expenses and other damages?
- What are other kinds of business or premises-related accidents have you handled?
There will NEVER be a fee unless there is a recovery made!
Gregg S. Harrison, Attorney at Law, PLLC
Greater Houston/Northwest Houston Slip and Fall Lawyer
Call for a FREE INITIAL CONSULTATION