Slip and fall injuries are not just something to just laugh at. A fall that goes wrong may cause broken bones, internal bleeding, spinal injury or even brain damage! If someone slips and falls, just because they can get up afterwards isn’t a sign that they’re fine – for all we know the pain is hiding in cracked bones or a concussion. If someone slips and falls inside your home or place of business, does this make you automatically liable?
Maybe yes, maybe no. There is a Reasonable Expectation Not to Be Injured whenever a person enters someone else’s property with the owner’s permission. Incidents like slip and fall injuries or being hit by falling objects, being attacked by dogs or other pets, accidents involving amusement park rides, being injured inside a restaurant, etc., may fall under Premises Liability.
The Implied Promise of Premises Liability
Employers are held liable for the actions of their employees, parents for their children, pet owners for their pets, and property owners for the conditions of their property.
When someone is invited to a home or workplace, or appears there for a legal reason (like a courier delivering a package) there is an implied promise that the owner of the property has exerted a reasonable amount of care to assure the safety of their property for themselves and others. Property owners have the responsibility to minimize unsafe conditions. Inadequate lighting around stairs, unmarked slippery surfaces, ice and snow in the sidewalk, aggressive pets, and many other hazards could cause someone to slip and fall in surprise.
For example, if someone slips and falls on an unmarked wet floor, and your employees were negligent to inform about dangerous conditions (such as leaving a sign or cordoning off the area), you will likely be ordered to compensate them for their pain and medical bills. Unsecured equipment on rollers are another likely culprit. Malfunctioning air conditioning equipment and vents that drip water are classic examples of open-and-shut personal injury claims.
However, there are exceptions to slip and fall cases.
Limits on Premises Liability
- Restricted AreasClearly marked restricted areas such as kitchens, industrial workplaces, or private workshops, generally will not make you liable for accidents suffered by visitors that should not be there. There is, instead, an expectation of danger for people who are not authorized personnel. Such areas should be clearly marked or you would still be held liable for the mistake.
- TrespassingPeople who enter your property without permission do not generally have the protection of the implied expectation not to get injured. However, if you have a serious property hazard and fail to leave a warning, you may still be held liable because the hazard would also be a danger to allowed visitors.
- Unforeseeability and Prevention
If you have already exercised all reasonable steps to secure your property and mark unsafe areas, you are not liable for freak accidents that could not have been anticipated. For example, at a party a guest spills a drink and someone slips, the fault falls on the person that caused said accident. But if they tripped and fell from a loose rug, you are the one at fault. If someone from outside throws something that lands inside your property and causes someone to lose their footing, you could not have predicted that.
- Self-Inflicted InjuriesWhile people have an expectation not to get injured, they also should have a general awareness to protect themselves. They should not engage in activities that would prevent them from noticing the hazard – like texting or talking on their cellphone while walking, or ignoring adequate warning signs and safety measures. As noted in 1) and 2), they should also have lawful access or a legitimate reason to be in a dangerous or restricted area.
Proving Negligence and Liability with Slip and Fall Injuries
Only when it can be proven that the property owner or their representatives failed to act prudently to reduce potential hazards will a slip and fall claim will be granted in states that follow Contributory Negligence rules. Other states allow Comparative Negligence, in which the claimant’s damages are reduced by how much they contributed to causing their injuries.
Consult with your attorney as soon as possible to know if your actions could mark a form of slip and fall negligence that would impact the claim.