A commonly underestimated accident resulting in severe injury is a slip and fall. These accidents can happen on public or private property anytime an individual slips or trips over a hazardous property feature and falls. However, people often ask: When a slip and fall accident occurs, who is liable?
The answer to this question is whoever owns or occupies the property where the accident occurs is generally liable. This post will provide basic information about why this is typically the case. If a slip and fall accident injured you in the Chicago area, a knowledgeable slip and fall lawyer can seek compensation for the expenses and losses from your injury.
Why Are Property Owners or Occupiers Liable?
Under the broad umbrella of cases involving personal injury, a smaller group of cases involve premises liability. Premises liability refers to the legal responsibilities that property owners have to their guests.
These responsibilities include regularly inspecting the premises to discover hazards that can cause injury and promptly repairing those hazardous features. Further, owners must warn guests of any unrepaired risks by placing prominent warning signs or barriers near the hazard.
Slip and fall accidents are the most common type of premises liability claims, including:
- Liquid or debris in walkways
- Damaged floors, including torn carpeting or overly worn or loose tile
- Freshly mopped or waxed floors
- Electrical cords extended across walkways
- Poor lighting, particularly around stairways
- Damaged or improperly constructed staircases
- Broken or missing handrails
- Cracked sidewalks or potholes in parking lots
What Are the Most Common Types of Injuries Suffered in Slip and Fall Accidents?
Slip and fall accidents often produce injuries such as:
- Damage to the ligaments in the knees and ankles due to twisting during the fall
- Broken arms, wrists, or hands due to the body's instinctive urge to “catch itself” with outstretched arms when falling
- Brain and spinal cord injuries, which can lead to permanent disabilities affecting your ability to earn an income or live independently
- Broken hips, which are common among elderly individuals and can reduce independence or cause death
- Deep cuts resulting from colliding with objects during the fall
Is There Ever a Reason the Property Owner or Possessor Is Not Liable for a Slip and Fall Accident?
Yes. If you trespassed on the property, the property owner or occupier may not owe you compensation for your injury. Trespassing refers to entering someone's property without their knowledge or permission. Property owners do not owe a duty to protect trespassers from suffering an injury on their property beyond not deliberately luring the trespasser onto the property to cause them harm.
Legal Defenses Against Slip and Fall Accident Claims
Insurance providers of property owners often use several common defenses for those accused of allowing a hazardous property condition to injure a guest.
An experienced slip and fall lawyer will prepare to counter these defenses:
- Open and Obvious Hazard: The open and obvious doctrine is a legal defense where the at-fault party's insurer claims that their insured is not liable for the accident because the hazard that caused their injury was so obvious that a reasonable person would have seen it and known to avoid the area.
- No Reason To Know: The property owner or occupier did not have reason to know that the hazardous feature posed a danger to others. In most premises liability claims, the hazard must have existed for a sufficient amount of time for the owner/occupier to discover it during an inspection of the premises. For example, suppose someone at the grocery store dropped a bottle of juice on the floor two minutes before you walked through the area and slipped on the liquid. In that case, the insurer could argue that there was insufficient time for the owner/occupier or their staff to detect the hazard and mitigate risk by cleaning it up.
- Your Negligence: The property owner/occupier was not responsible for the accident because your negligence caused your injury. Slip and fall accident claimants can expect insurers to ask about the type of shoes they were wearing or whether they were distracted at the time of the accident.
Why Liability Matters in a Slip and Fall Claim
Liability refers to someone's legal responsibility to compensate a victim they injured through negligence. Proving someone else's liability is one of the main objectives of your claim because, without a liable party, there is no associated insurance policy from which to seek compensation.
Contrary to popular belief, slip and fall accidents generally aren't frivolous claims. Falling is one of the leading causes of accidental death. As noted by the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), slip and fall accidents cause about one million visits to the emergency room each year in the U.S.
This type of accident can produce severe, debilitating, or even deadly injuries, particularly when the victim is over 65. Individuals in this age group commonly suffer a broken hip from a fall. Broken hips are significant injuries, and about half of the elderly sufferers of this type of injury cannot return home or live independently after the fall.
Any injury sustained in a slip and fall accident can result in current and future medical expenses, wage loss and loss of earning capacity, and more. Likewise, this type of accident can carry psychological impacts such as pain and suffering or emotional distress. You can seek compensation for all of these costs and losses through the personal injury claims process, provided you can show that the property owner or occupier was liable.
How to Prove Liability
The success of your claim rides on your ability to prove that someone else was liable for your slip and fall accident.
To prove liability, you must show:
- The at-fault party was the owner, active leaseholder, or held an operating agreement and owed you a duty of care.
- The at-fault property owner or occupier failed to uphold their duty to regularly inspect the premises, promptly remedy known hazards, and warn guests of unrepaired hazards with prominent warning signs or barriers.
- You suffered an injury on the at-fault party's property due to a slip and fall accident.
- The property owner's negligence caused the slip and fall accident you experienced.
What Evidence Can Prove a Slip and Fall Claim?
The evidence needed to prove your claim is unique to the facts of your case.
However, the evidence commonly helpful in establishing a slip and fall claim includes:
- Photographs of the property hazard: For example, suppose a slip and fall injured you caused by melted snow making the entryway to a retail store slippery. Pictures of the accident scene show that the condition existed and may reveal that the liable property owner/possessor knew or had reason to know that the hazard existed.
- Maintenance records and company policies: These documents about inspecting or repairing known property hazards can help prove the property owner's failure to maintain a safe space.
- Expert testimony: A construction expert can reveal the improper design of a staircase or other property features.
- Previous complaints and injuries: Other individuals injured by the same hazard can show the property owner knew or had reason to know the danger existed and failed to repair it in a reasonable amount of time.
What Compensation Can You Seek Through a Slip and Fall Accident Claim?
Individuals injured in a slip and fall accident can seek to recover economic and non-economic damages through a personal injury claim. Economic damages refer to the compensation you can receive for your injury expenses. Non-economic damages refer to the compensation you can receive for the non-monetary impacts of your injury.
Common damages in a slip and fall claim include:
- Injury-related medical expenses:
- The costs of emergency treatment at the scene or in the emergency room
- Ambulance transport
- Diagnostic imaging
- Physician services
- Prescription medication
- Physical therapy and rehabilitation
- Mobility assistance, such as a wheelchair or crutches
- Wage loss for the time you missed from work due to your injury
- Loss of future earning capacity due to permanent disabilities if you can no longer earn an income or must take a new job
- Emotional distress, stress the injury places on your life, and the loss of quality of life for activities you can no longer participate in due to the injury
Time is of the Essence When Gathering Evidence for Your Slip and Fall Claim
If a slip and fall accident has injured you, talk with a slip and fall lawyer as soon as possible to preserve the evidence needed to prove your claim. The evidence in this type of claim tends to “disappear” rather quickly when the property owner or occupier discovers that you have filed a claim. Additionally, an attorney can start working on your claim as soon as possible to avoid the statute of limitations for your case.
Most states allow between one and four years from the date the accident occurred to file your claim. In Illinois, for example, claimants typically have two years to file a slip and fall claim in court.
Slip and Fall Accident? A Lawyer Can Help With Your Claim
Slip and fall accidents can be overwhelming to those who do not have experience dealing with the legal process or determining fair compensation for their damages. The truth is that most personal injury claims settle before they ever see the inside of a courtroom.
However, it is imperative to have an attorney who is comfortable going to court. There is no guarantee that an insurance provider will make a fair settlement offer to compensate you. A slip and fall lawyer should be ready to fight for you no matter where your case goes.
Contact a qualified lawyer for a free case evaluation and seek the compensation you deserve from the party liable for your slip and fall injuries.