Slip and Fall

"Slip and fall" is a term for personal injury cases which arise when injury is caused when a person slips and falls as a result of a dangerous or hazardous condition on someone else's property. Inside a building, dangerous conditions such as torn carpeting, abrupt changes in flooring, poor lighting, narrow stairs, or a wet floor can cause you to slip and hurt yourself. Outside a building, you may slip and fall because of rain, ice, snow or a hidden hazard, such as a gap or hard to see pothole in the ground. Slip and fall accidents can occur on commercial, residential or public property. Regardless of where they happen, all property or building owners have a certain level of responsibility (duty of care) to make sure an environment is safe.

Slip and fall accidents are the most common type of "premises liability" cases, which center on the question of a property owner's duty to care for the property. Injury by fire or other accidents resulting from defects in the conditions of buildings also fall under this category.

Slip and fall cases are governed under negligence law. To win a premises liability claim, an injured victim has to prove either that the defendant created the hazard that led to the accident or that the defendant knew or should have known about the danger and had it removed or repaired. This can often be difficult to prove, since proving when a given hazard first appeared can be challenging.

Example: If you slip and fall on a banana in a grocery store, absent some evidence of when the banana first fell onto the floor, it may be difficult to prove that the store "knew or should have known" about the dangerous condition. If the banana fell onto the floor ten seconds before you arrived, then the store most likely could not have known about it. Since Plaintiff’s have the burden of proof, proving when the hazard first appeared and that the store should have known about the hazard presents problems in certain cases.

Structural defects

Structural damages to a building, often due to age or wear and tear, can be a significant cause of injury. Uneven steps, parking lot potholes, cracked sidewalks, broken tiles, or torn carpeting can create dangerous situations for visitors to a building. As noted earlier, to prove negligence, we will have to prove that the property owner knew or should have known about the problem and failed to repair it.

Occasionally, negligence can be proven by violation of a statute. Building owners must ensure that the building's structure is in compliance with applicable building codes. For example, handrails and other similar structures typically must be installed at a certain general height. If you fall on a stairway that lacked appropriate handrails, and the lack thereof caused your injuries, you may have a valid claim against the building owner for violating building codes.

Weather-related accidents

Weather-related slip and fall accidents are difficult cases for injured plaintiffs. Landowners are generally expected to take reasonable steps to reduce hazards created by adverse weather. This can include, but is not limited to, shoveling snow, salting or sanding icy and slippery spots, and installing anti-slip devices on outdoor steps. As with other cases, if the landowner has no reasonable opportunity to correct the problem, as where a flash flood has created a hazard, the landowner will not held liable for injuries caused by the hazard.

Comparative Negligence

In slip and fall cases, as with all other negligence claims, comparative negligence applies. 23 Okl. St § § 13. As a guest on someone else’s property, you are expected to exercise reasonable judgment and caution.

Example: You fall while walking down the stairs at a hotel, sustaining serious injuries. A jury finds that the property owner had been warned about the trouble spot weeks ago and failed to correct it, however, the jury also finds that you were reading the newspaper while you walked down the stairs and your inattention contributed to causing the accident. If the jury finds you 50 percent at fault and the defendant 50 percent at fault, the defendant would have to pay you only one half of the total damages found to be incurred by you.

What To Do If You Slip and Fall

  • Inspect the area where you fell, and try to determine what caused you to fall.
  • Make sure to write down the names, addresses and phone numbers of anyone in the vicinity where the incident occurred - both those who saw you fall, and others who were there after the incident -- since you will likely need them as witnesses on your behalf. Even if someone did not see you fall, he or she could, if necessary, describe your pain and the conditions of the floor, lighting, or other hazard immediately after you fell.
  • If the incident occurred in a store or place of business, speak with the manager or supervisor on duty, and have them make a record of the incident, being sure to get a copy of anything prepared. If anyone (especially an employee, supervisor or manager) makes a comment suggesting that this has occurred before, or that they were aware of the condition before your fall, obtain this person’s name and job title. Make sure to get the name, address and phone number of anyone else who heard him or her make the statement.
  • Have someone take photographs of the area as soon as possible, so a record is made. Dangerous conditions have a way of changing if the property owner thinks that you might file a claim for injuries.
  • If you slip on any substance on the floor, obtain a sample of the substance if possible.
  • After receiving appropriate initial medical treatment, contact an attorney with experience in handling claims for personal injury resulting from slip and fall accidents.

Property Owner's Duty

Landowners have different degrees of responsibility to different classifications of people who come onto their property. There are three main classifications of people that the law recognizes: invitees, licensees, and trespassers.

Invitees - An Invitee is a person who is invited onto property for business reasons, such as customers of a business and job applicants. Property owners owe the highest degree of care to invitees to make sure they are safe from dangers. What this means is that the property owner not only has a duty to repair and correct known dangers - he also has a duty to reasonably inspect for, discover, and correct unknown hazards in those areas of the premises that are not obviously or clearly labeled "off-limits."

These legal principles simply mean that the property owner or storeowner has a duty to take reasonable actions to ensure that the environment is safe to patrons. Unfortunately there is no precise way to measure what is reasonable. The law defines "reasonable" as what a person of ordinary intelligence and judgment would do under the same circumstances. This standard is open to wide interpretation by a jury.

Example: A business owner is expected to make sure the stairwells in his or her commercial property are clean and safe. It is reasonable to expect that regular checks, maintenance and cleanup will be conducted. However, it is unreasonable to expect that a person will keep watch all day long to make sure nothing is spilled or broken.

Licensees - A Licensee is a social guest, allowed on the property for social purposes. Property owners are required to ensure that conditions are safe for licensees, though the degree of care is lower to licensees than to invitees. Unlike the case with invitees, where the property owner has a duty to inspect for and discover unknown dangers, where licensees are involved the property owner is only required to take reasonable care to protect them from any hazardous risks the property holder knows about.

Trespassers - A Tresspasser is someone who is not authorized to be on a given piece of property. Landowners are not obligated to protect trespassers who intrude on their land without permission. The landowner's responsibility in this case is called "zero duty," though they cannot willfully injure trespassers.

Trespassing children - A different rule applies where trespassing children are involved. In the case of children who wander onto a property without authorization, landlords do have a duty to ensure that their property is safe. The logic behind this exemption is that children are sometimes naïve to dangers on property, and could in fact be lured to investigate dangerous conditions such as an abandoned well, a swimming pool, or heavy machinery. These potential hazards are referred to as "attractive nuisances."