Slip and Fall Injuries: Proving Your Case

Who to Sue

If you are injured by slipping and falling on another person’s property, the most likely defendant will be the owner or manager of that property. Other potential defendants include companies that independently contract with the building owner or manager, such as food or cleaning services. Food service companies, for example, may be negligent in transporting or storing their product, causing spills and leakages. Cleaning services are frequently responsible for accidents in retail space or commercial office buildings. They may polish, wax or wet-mop floors during business hours and fail to warn of or close off access to wet or slippery walking surfaces.

Liability

To prove liability for a slip and fall injury, you must show one of the following:

  • The property owner, manager or employee caused or created the dangerous condition.
  • The property owner, manager or employee actually knew about the dangerous condition but did nothing to fix it.
  • The property owner, manager or employee should have known about the dangerous condition because a reasonable person in that position would have known about the danger and fixed it.

Reasonableness

In order to determine whether a property owner acted reasonably in regard to a dangerous condition, a jury might consider one or more of the following:

  • The length of time the defect or danger was present before the accident occurred. If an awning over a stairwell has been leaking for months, it is less reasonable for the owner to claim he was unaware of it than if the leak had just started the night before. One case held that a slippery substance left on a floor for 15 minutes was sufficient to allow plaintiff to submit proof of liability. It is important to consider the surrounding facts and circumstances of each case.
  • If an object was left on the floor and a person tripped over it, was there a legitimate reason for the object to be there? Or, could it have been more safely positioned or stored?
  • What precautions did the property owner take to minimize slip and fall hazards on the premises? The less burdensome and costly the precaution, the less reasonable it is not to take it.

Carelessness of the Person Injured

Most states apply the rule of comparative negligence in slip and fall cases. If, for example, you ignored a warning sign because you were talking on your cell phone, your damages award may be reduced in proportion to your comparative fault. Some factors to consider are:

  • Did you have a legitimate reason to be on the premises when the accident occurred?
  • Would a reasonable person in the same situation have noticed the dangerous condition and avoided it?
  • Did the property owner erect a barrier or otherwise warn of the dangerous condition?
  • Were you involved in activities that increased your likelihood of slipping and falling, such as texting while walking, or running and jumping around the edge of a wet surface?

Even if a person is severely injured by slipping and falling on a surface such as a wet marble floor, the case will be dismissed unless the plaintiff can show that the property owner created the wet condition, actually knew about it, or should have known about it.

In general, even if the property owner knew that a condition was dangerous before it caused injury, he can avoid liability by showing that he took reasonable steps to fix the condition, such as by mopping floors and putting down mats in rainy weather.

If you think you have a slip and fall claim or another type of premises liability claim, make sure you discuss your case with a reputable attorney.