By Logan Quirk
Most people will fall over at some stage in their lives. In the majority of cases, you can bounce back without major injuries. But when a slip and fall accident occurs on someone else’s property and you’ve come to significant harm, you might want to start seeking justice.
When a slip and fall accident occurs as a result of someone else’s negligence, life soon becomes frustrating. Being limited by an injury and incurring the financial costs that come with it isn’t fair. If you’ve recently suffered following a fall on someone else’s property or as a result of someone’s actions, you may be able to seek compensation. Before you can do that, you need to identify who is at fault.
First, recognize that accidents happen
Slipping and falling is a normal part of life. It’s worth acknowledging from the outset that it isn’t always possible to blame someone else for such incidents. Try to consider normal day-to-day events in someone else’s building for a moment. Spillages occur, items break, and sometimes someone may forget to put something back in its proper place. As it isn’t reasonable to expect all building owners to immediately tend to such problems, they don’t all result in a slip and fall claim that you can pursue.
However, there does come a point when a building’s owner has been negligent. All spillages must be cleaned promptly. A frayed piece of carpet at the top of a tall flight of stairs is a danger you cannot ignore. If there is an absence of risk management or building inspection policies, a commercial property owner is behaving recklessly.
Trying to determine the difference between a genuine accident and a case of negligence is often tricky. As a result, you may find yourself turning to an attorney for assistance with your case. Your attorney can use their legal resources to identify true cases of negligence.
Do the basics of a negligence case exist?
As with any case that involves negligence, you need to identify whether three basic factors exist:
Duty of care
Does the person or business you believe is responsible have a duty of care? Someone has a duty of care when they have a legal responsibility to avoid injuring other people. For example, a public swimming pool owner may have a duty of care to provide a lifeguard. When they don’t provide a lifeguard and someone suffers as a result, they haven’t met their duty of care.
Suffering as a result of a duty of care breach
In any negligence case, you also need to prove that you suffered as a result of that duty of care breach. Let’s say you do slip and fall because someone breached their duty of care. However, you managed to get up and walk away to go about your usual activities. If there was no harm done, you don’t have a case. On the other hand, if you fracture your hip and can’t go to work and the fall was the cause of that injury, suffering has occurred.
Finally, you also need to prove that the suffering you’ve encountered was reasonably foreseeable. Using the fall as an example again, it’s reasonably foreseeable that you’d need to pay medical bills. So it’s probably possible that you can gain compensation to cover those bills. However, being unable to go to the store and purchase a lottery ticket and failing to win the jackpot isn’t reasonably foreseeable. Therefore, you can’t claim for that missed opportunity.
Has the building owner taken good care of their property?
Here’s where things start to get a little tricky. All buildings fall into some form of disrepair. Even if nobody is using it, it’ll gradually grow older. However, there’s a fine line between natural aging and unnecessary disrepair. When identifying who’s at fault in a slip and fall accident, you need to tell the difference between the two.
Does routine maintenance take place?
Routine cleaning and maintenance are a must for businesses exercising their duty of care. The purpose of a routine cleaning schedule is to avoid spillages and trip hazards, as well as to maintain hygiene. Maintenance avoids disrepair that could become hazardous. If the business responsible for your slip and fall accident claims to have such routines, they need to provide evidence of them.
Did you trip over an object?
Let’s say you tripped over an object. You first need to make sure that the business owner or their staff was aware the object was there. For example, if you tripped over a child’s toy in a restaurant, it’s unlikely you can prove who was aware of its presence. If it’s a piece of equipment, though, someone from the business probably knew it was there.
If the business owner or their staff believed that was the safest place for the equipment, it may be the case that you were walking somewhere inappropriate. However, they also need to demonstrate that there wasn’t a safer alternative place for the equipment to be. The alternative safe place must be available to the owner without significant expense or inconvenience.
In some cases, the business owner may have been aware of the object’s danger as a result of a previous risk. For example, if a staff member or another customer previously tripped and fell, you may be able to argue that they had some insight into the possible dangers.
Did the owner use appropriate warning signs?
In some cases, slip and fall hazards aren’t avoidable. A good example of this is a sudden dip in the floor level due to ongoing building work. However, in such cases, the business owner should use appropriate signage to help prevent a slip and fall accident. In addition to using appropriate warning signs, it’s necessary to make them easy to understand and see.
Was the ground unsafe?
The ground you walk on can become unsafe for any number of reasons. For example, carpets eventually start to fray. If a piece of carpet frays and lifts up, it becomes a trip hazard. Similarly, loose and broken flooring can result in falls. If the ground was unsafe, you also need to determine whether the owner had known about it for long enough to address it. If a floorboard became loose that morning, they probably didn’t have enough time to address the issue.
Ways you may be at fault
If you’re at fault in a slip and fall accident, you can’t sue yourself. However, your role in the accident may diminish or eliminate any claim you can make against the property owner. Legally, this is known as comparative negligence. The business owner may be able to prove that you weren’t taking enough steps to protect your own safety.
Although comparative negligence won’t always result in your claim being dismissed, it can reduce the amount of compensation you receive. Sometimes, comparative negligence includes factors that the business owner couldn’t predict, for example, a unique medical condition that makes it easier for you to injure yourself.
Going where you shouldn’t
When you’re on someone’s business premises, there are areas you can access and areas that you shouldn’t. A good example of this is a restaurant. As a customer, you can use the restaurant floor and the bathroom facilities. If an accident happens in either of those places, you’re at a location you belong in. But if you wander into the kitchen and get burned on a cooker, you shouldn’t have been in the kitchen to start with.
Ignoring warning signs
If a business owner puts up a warning sign that’s clear and easy to understand, you shouldn’t ignore it. For example, if building work is taking place at an elevator shaft and you choose to lean into the elevator despite a sign, you’re at fault. If they didn’t use a sign or barrier, they’re probably at fault.
Danger that’s obvious
Some dangers are more obvious than others. For example, you’re unlikely to continue walking on a sidewalk if there’s a large pothole there. Continuing to walk would result in you falling down the pothole and injuring yourself. If you make such decisions, it isn’t always necessary to have a sign in place.
Whether or not a self-induced distraction could act as contributory negligence is quite tricky. It may depend on the environment you’re in and the distraction you’re using. A good example of a distraction is walking while texting on your phone. If you’re texting, you’re fully absorbed in that activity and not the environment around you. A property owner can’t be expected to accommodate the accidents that can happen while someone walks and texts.
Can you be sure that the footwear you were wearing was appropriate? If you were wearing sneakers with a firm grip, your footwear was probably appropriate. However, if you were wearing sneakers in an aircraft hanger where steel-toed boots are clearly advised and you break your foot, sneakers aren’t appropriate. There are certain types of footwear that are difficult to walk in too. For example, stiletto heels.
Battling with insurance companies
Most slip and fall accidents become a battle with insurance companies. Although insurance companies are in the business of paying out money, they’ll also do what they can to limit this.
As someone who’s claiming for a slip and fall accident, you should expect that the insurance company will try to blame you. They’ll question what your footwear was like, whether you wore a hat that obstructed your vision, and whether you ignored any obvious dangers. Many will also question whether you were allowing yourself to be distracted at the time of the accident.
Alcohol consumption may also be used against you in the course of a claim. Let’s say you’re attending a party and you fall down the host’s stairs. If the host was aware that their handrail was a little loose, they may be at fault. However, if you drank a lot of alcohol at the party, the insurance company may push the blame in your direction. After all, you were the one who chose to drink a lot. The claim may then centralize around whether the host should have reasonably expected drunk people at their party to slip because of the broken handrail.
Fighting against insurance companies is frustrating. Many are aware that you’re trying to meet the cost of recovering from your accident. As a result, they can use tactics such as recommending lower payments in the hope that you’ll need to access them to meet your financial obligations.
Proving injuries and loss of earnings
When you can prove that the property owner was negligent and you were not, you still need to demonstrate that you suffered. Your medical records are a reliable source of proof for injuries and the cost of treatment. However, you can’t claim for previous injuries and proving that your fall exacerbated a previous injury is tricky.
Loss of earnings can sometimes be difficult to prove following a slip and fall accident. Insurance companies and property owners may question whether it was necessary for you to take a lot of time off work. Sometimes, they don’t have any room for maneuver. For example, if you previously worked as a pilot and you break both your legs, you can hardly fly a plane during your recovery. However, if you worked in an office and you tear a ligament near your ankle, they may challenge whether you needed to remain off work for the full recovery period.
Areas such as lost potential become even harder to prove. It isn’t unusual for a severe slip and fall injury to prevent someone from progressing with their career. But you do face the challenge of demonstrating that you would have progressed had the accident not happened.
Securing your legal rights
As you can see, apportioning blame following a slip and fall accident is tricky. In addition to demonstrating that the property owner was at fault, you need to highlight the severity of the injury and accompanying losses. You’ll also face the insurance company challenging you over your contributions to the situation.
At Quirk Law Group, we assist our clients throughout Los Angeles with slip and fall accidents. Our personal injury lawyers will fight your case with tenacity. Thanks to our experience with personal injury law and our connections with local experts, we can help you prove liability. To arrange an appointment, call 866 306 9106.