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.

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Slip and Fall Injuries: Where do They Most Commonly Occur?

Thousands of people are injured each year, some of them seriously, by slipping, tripping or falling on a hazardous floor, an unsafe flight of stairs, or an uneven patch of ground. Injured persons may suffer wrist, ankle and hip fractures, shoulder damage, and even brain trauma. Accidents are part of normal, everyday living, and not all property owners can be held responsible for keeping their premises free of every object or substance that may pose a potential danger. Therefore, not all property owners will be held liable for injuries caused by slips, trips and falls on their premises.

There are, however, a number of well-recognized conditions in certain property areas that routinely present possible slip and fall hazards. Landowners who know or should have known of these dangerous conditions and who fail to remedy them are at risk of being held liable for the injuries that result.

Floors

  • Failure to provide adequate warnings when floors are being cleaned and are still wet or damp.
  • Failing to provide adequate barriers to close off access to an area with a wet or damp floor.
  • Applying a floor treatment to a part of the floor that is sloping or on an incline.
  • Failure to use floor treatments containing non-skid ingredients, where appropriate.
  • Using excessive amounts of wax or polish and applying layers unevenly.
  • Treating part of a floor while leaving a part untreated, resulting in uneven conditions that cause a slip and fall.
  • Use of carpeting that is torn, worn, or bulging.
  • Use of mats or rugs with curled edges, worn spots, or holes.

Stairs

  • Failure to replace missing handrails.
  • Allowing debris such as trash, pieces of paper, dirt, and gum to accumulate on steps.
  • Failure to repair or replace worn steps or those with rounded edges.
  • Improperly maintained escalators likely to catch clothing, footwear, fingers, hands or feet and cause a fall. Escalators and elevators with faulty machinery causing sudden, unexpected jerky movements that can result in trips and falls.

Outdoors

  • Icy conditions occurring when water accumulates on the roof, and then melts, drips off, and refreezes on the ground.
  • Parking lots and sidewalks with sloping, uneven surfaces where water forms puddles and then refreezes.
  • Parking lots and sidewalks with unpatched holes or cracks. Parking lot owners are responsible for maintaining the property in such a manner that it is reasonably safe for people using it.
  • Inadequate outdoor lighting causing pedestrians to trip on curbing, holes, cracks and other uneven surfaces.

Property owners are not responsible for every slippery, uneven or dangerous condition, even those that cause severe injury. Although landowners must take reasonable steps to ensure that their property is free of hazards, there is no hard and fast rule determining liability in these premises liability claims. An experienced attorney can help you evaluate the facts in your case to see if they might lead to a successful slip and fall claim.

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Slip and Fall: Examples of Cases, Verdicts and Settlements

Slip and fall liability can be difficult to establish. (See: Slip and Fall Injury: Proving Your Case). Below is a sampling of slip and fall cases in which plaintiffs have been both successful and unsuccessful in proving their claims. Bear in mind that the facts and circumstances of your own case may be very different. You should discuss your particular claim with a competent attorney.

Examples Of Damages

These two cases allege damages that you might not expect in a slip and fall claim:

  • Plaintiff slipped and fell on a liquid substance on the floor of a supermarket. At trial, both plaintiff and his wife testified that plaintiff had become depressed and had experienced suicidal tendencies as a result of the debilitating pain allegedly attributable to his injuries. Several witnesses testified that plaintiff had undergone a gross personality change since the accident and a psychologists’ report linked plaintiff’s depression to his injuries. Further, plaintiff sought to establish that, due to his pain and injury, his physical activity had been reduced to such an extent that he gained excessive amounts of weight. As a result, he required a surgical procedure known as gastroplasty which involves a stapling of the stomach to induce weight loss. The jury found plaintiff and defendant each 50% liable and awarded damages of $70,000 to plaintiff and $9,000 to plaintiff’s wife. On appeal, the parties agreed to reduce the damages to $40,000 and $6,000 respectively.
  • Plaintiff, a Virginia resident, slipped and fell in puddle caused by a leaky awning at the entrance to a gas station convenience store. She fell forward, lost consciousness, and later suffered seizures and post-concussion syndrome. Prior to the accident, plaintiff had been a highly successful businesswoman. Afterward, she found she could no longer do her job because she had lost the ability to multitask. A jury awarded plaintiff $12.2 million, the highest ever slip and fall verdict in that state’s history.

Issues of Proof

These cases show how tricky it can be to prove a slip and fall claim:

  • Plaintiff was touring a State University of New York campus when she slipped and fell while walking on a sloping concrete walkway. She claimed that she did not see the icy condition of the walkway until her feet had gone out from under her and she had fallen backward. She alleged the defendant failed to properly maintain the area, creating a dangerous condition. Defendant claimed that, due to a previous snowfall, he had performed snow and ice removal and had put down calcium chloride, a melting agent. Defendant further claimed that prior to plaintiff’s fall, there had only been wetness on the pavement. After trial, plaintiff’s claim was dismissed. The judge determined that, although ice was the cause of claimant’s slip and fall, plaintiff had failed to prove the dimensions of the icy patch or the length of time the condition had existed prior to her fall. The judge further noted that a landowner’s failure to remove every patch of ice and snow from a walkway does not constitute negligence if he has received no complaints about the condition. Finally, although plaintiff’s fall was unfortunate, the measures taken by defendant to remove snow and ice were reasonable under the circumstances and were not required to be perfect.
  • Plaintiff fell on a wet marble floor in the lobby of her place of work. In dismissing the claim, the court held that property owners are not required to provide a constant remedy when water is tracked into a building during rainy weather, nor do they continually have to mop up all water tracked in or even provide floor mats on wet days.

Examples Of Successful Claims

In the following cases, plaintiffs were successful in proving their slip and fall claims:

  • A 53 year-old computer operator suffered an ankle fracture and other injuries requiring hospitalization when she slipped and fell during a lunch break while attending computer classes. The puddle was located on the patio of defendant’s premises. The plaintiff contended that the poor condition of the patio was the cause of the accident and her injuries. After trial, the parties settled the lawsuit for $125,000.
  • Plaintiff was walking on the southbound IRT #2 train platform in the Bronx when she fell on a patch of ice, sustaining injury and medical expenses. The platform was owned and maintained by the New York City Transit Authority. Plaintiff alleged that defendant had been negligent in allowing a dangerous condition to exist by allowing ice to accumulate on the platform and failing to remove it. At trial, the jury unanimously found the defendant negligent and awarded plaintiff $150,000 for past pain and suffering and $500,000 for future pain and suffering.
  • Plaintiff was a patron at defendant’s restaurant when, while walking to her table near the service area of the bar, she slipped and fell on a liquid substance. Plaintiff asserted the defendants were negligent in allowing the bar area contain a hazardous condition and in failing to post warning signs or take reasonable steps to correct the condition. Plaintiff sought damages for her injuries and medical expenses. Defendants argued that plaintiff had failed to establish their actual or constructive notice that the dangerous condition existed. Nevertheless, plaintiff was awarded damages for medical expenses and past and future suffering as well as for loss of enjoyment of life up to the date of the verdict in the total amount of $160,665.
  • A 39 year-old nurse’s aide slipped and fell on ice that had accumulated in front of defendant city’s hospital. She suffered an ankle fracture that resulted in residual swelling, scarring and difficulty walking. Plaintiff argued that defendant had been negligent in clearing away the snow and had allowed it to melt and refreeze, creating a slip and fall hazard. Defendant claimed that it had properly cleared the snow and that plaintiff was negligent for failing to keep a proper lookout. Plaintiff was awarded $595,000 in damages.

Consulting with an experienced attorney can help you determine whether the facts in your slip and fall or other premises liability case are likely to result in a successful claim for damages.

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Premises Security Litigation: A Growing Field of Personal Injury Practice

In 1974, the singer Connie Francis was raped at knifepoint in a Westbury, Long Island Howard Johnson’s Motel room. She was hospitalized for 4 days and suffered recurring nightmares thereafter. The assailant had gained entry to her room through a defective sliding door. Even in a locked position, the motel’s sliding doors could easily be jiggled open from the outside. In a highly publicized 1976 trial, a jury awarded Francis $2.5 million in damages. At the time, it was one of the largest awards ever made in a rape case. When the decision was overturned on appeal, the lawsuit was eventually settled for $1.8 million.

In 1991, an apartment manager in Corpus Christi, Texas was found liable for $17 million after a building resident was raped. Although the resident had specifically requested a door lock that could only be opened from the inside, management refused, citing its need to gain access to all units. Six months later, the assailant broke into the management office, selected his victim from the apartment complex files, and took a key from a board where apartment keys were hanging. Also in 1991, a Ft. Worth Motel 6 settled a $10 million lawsuit for rape. Despite an ad campaign touting the motel chain’s reputation for safety, management failed to provide nightly security guards as promised. According to the deposition of a former Motel 6 security executive, the chain had averaged a rape a month from 1987-1990.

Negligent Security Claims Are Growing

Hotels and motels often conceal the amount of crime occurring on their premises, and these incidents are not widely reported. But although premises security litigation was quite rare in 1974, it is now among the fastest growing areas in personal injury practice. In fact, claims alleging faulty security are beginning to rival general negligence and slip and fall cases as the most common causes of action against residential landlords and property owners. Over the past decade, the average verdict in favor of plaintiffs against landlords was over $1 million for assault victims, $1.8 million for rape victims, and $2.1 million in favor of an estate for a wrongful death action. The average settlement amount in premises security lawsuits is an astonishing $500,000.

Victims of inadequate premises security are no longer willing to rely on the criminal justice system as their sole recourse. In turn, civil courts are demonstrating greater flexibility in permitting lawsuits based not only on negligence, but on grounds like breach of warranty and consumer fraud. Where criminal acts are committed by building employees against residents, an increasingly common legal theory is negligent hiring and retention, i.e. failure by employers to do thorough background checks of potential employees.

About Premises Security Ligitation

Property managers, landlords, security companies and colleges are frequent targets of premises security litigation. Among the most likely venues for crimes leading to such lawsuits are parking lots, apartments, retail stores, especially shopping malls, and exterior common areas, bars, hospitals, colleges and day care centers.

The actual wrongdoer in a premises security case is not the landlord or business owner but the person who committed the crime. Previously, courts were reluctant to hold landowners liable for criminal acts committed by a 3rd party because such conduct was not foreseeable. More recently, however, courts have been more liberal as to the nature of evidence required to show a landlord knew or should have known a crime might occur on the premises. Certainly, courts have expanded the concept of special relationships that give rise to a duty to create and maintain safe conditions. The relationship between landlord and tenant and business owner and patron is now commonly deemed sufficient to confer a duty to provide protection.

The mere commission of a crime is not sufficient to show a breach of duty. Plaintiffs must demonstrate that the landlord or business owner failed to provide an adequate level of security. In premises security lawsuits, claims most frequently arise from broken door locks, defective intercom systems, poorly trained or negligently hired security guards, and insufficient lighting of parking lots.

If you are injured due to faulty security, consult a knowledgeable personal injury attorney as soon as possible. It will be necessary to ensure that evidence is preserved and that claims are filed in a timely fashion.

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New York Premises Liability: Questions and Answers

The blanket legal term “premises liability” encompasses a wide range of personal injuries occurring on property belonging to another person. The property can be owned by a small business, family, giant corporation or municipality, but regardless, each property owner has a duty to keep his land in reasonably safe condition to protect people who might enter it.

What is Premises Liability?

As stated, the term “premises liability” can be used to describe a number of different legal causes of action arising from personal injuries sustained on another’s land.

If you have suffered one of these injuries, you probably have many questions. You need to know if the property owner is liable for your injuries. You need to know who is responsible for paying your medical bills. You want to know if someone will have to pay you for the wages you lost while recovering. There are no real standard answers to any of these questions without consulting a lawyer. Personal injury cases are very fact-specific. When you are injured, you should seek the counsel of an experienced premises liability attorney in your area to learn more about your legal rights and options.

Common Premises Liability Injuries

Below you will find some specific examples and a general explanation of the typical liability attached to them. Keep in mind, however, that the facts of your unique case could be the key factor in deciding who is responsible for your injuries. This is not meant to be a substitute for legal advice.

Q: Who is liable for my sidewalk slip-and-fall injury?

A: It depends. Liability for an injury turns on several factors, including who is responsible for the property, whether the injured person was there legally and how the injury occurred. Sidewalks, while usually installed by government entities, are typically maintained by the home or business owner attached to them. If, for example, a business owner failed to repair a large crack in a sidewalk, it is likely that the owner would be liable for a fall caused by stepping into that crack. If that same injury occurred in front of a private single-family residence, however, the outcome might be different and the City may be primarily responsible.

Q: My child is sick with lead poisoning; do I have a claim against my landlord?

A: Possibly. New York, like the great majority of other jurisdictions, has passed laws requiring the removal, replacement or proper covering of lead-based paint and building materials. If the lead poisoning was the result of a known condition (peeling paint in an apartment hallway) that the landlord reasonably should have seen and taken steps to correct, then the landlord is likely liable for failing to repair the hazard. If, on the other hand, a landlord had no idea there was a child in the apartment (such as a child being born after the parents move in) the landlord could escape responsibility.

Q: I was assaulted in my own building; can I hold management responsible?

A: Unfortunately, criminal attacks are all too common in New York City. It may be possible to recover for an assault occurring in a residential apartment or condominium building if it is reasonably foreseeable that a crime could occur there. Basically, if there is lax security (broken entry locks, unlit hallways, accessible storage rooms not easily viewed) or a crime has occurred there in the past, it might be possible to hold the building’s management or owners responsible.

Q: A railing broke and I fell and got hurt; do I have a claim?

A: If the defective railing is in a place where the building’s owner or manager could have been expected to know it was unsafe, you might be able to seek damages incurred as a result of your injuries. Building owners and landlords are responsible for keeping their property safe for visitors and residents. Defects that are not clearly noticeable are particularly problematic; loose stairs, weakened railings, torn carpets, wobbly floorboards – all of these are potentially hazardous and could be invisible to the casual observer.

If you have been injured on someone else’s property, you might be able to file a claim for the damages which come as a result of your injuries. It is important to seek the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney in your area who can give you more information about your legal rights and options.

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