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Proving Fault: Understanding a Slip and Fall Lawsuit

Each year, more than 800,000 people are hospitalized due to a slip and fall injury, often because they’ve injured their head or broken their hip. Long-term impacts can range from disability and time off work to dependence on others and reduced quality of life.

Whether you’re on public or private property, if you’re seriously injured, you may need to prove fault in a slip and fall lawsuit. This type of lawsuit is complicated and includes a variety of different factors, but this blog post will help you understand your rights and responsibilities.

Ready? Let’s get started.

Understanding Slip and Fall Law

When you hear the term “slip and fall law”, this is referring to the rules around liability when someone falls and suffers harm due to dangerous or unsafe conditions on public or private property.

These cases are determined by the basic rules of negligence. While the word “slip” is referenced, the law covers any accident resulting from someone encountering unsafe conditions producing a twist, overextension, stumble, or another movement.

Slip and fall cases can be caused by hazards like:

  • Potholes
  • Uneven steps
  • Broken floor tiles
  • Snow and ice
  • Objects on stairs
  • Cracked sidewalks
  • Spilled food or liquid
  • Indirect causes like missing handrails or dim lighting

As soon as a slip and fall accident has occurred, the first step is to identify the responsible parties. Often, the fault can be attributed to a tenant or employee, but there will also sometimes be other parties who exercised ownership or control of the accident site.

These can include the owner or landlord of a property, a business owner, or a property manager. Most of the time, one or more of these people will be covered by liability insurance.

If it’s not immediately possible to determine the identity of the responsible party, in most jurisdictions will allow for a “John Doe” defendant to be named. The court documents are then changed once the responsible party or person is identified. This means that the plaintiff can file on time.

If a slip and fall accident happens on public property, the government can be sued in limited circumstances.

Winning the Lawsuit

To win a slip and fall lawsuit, you’ll need to show one of the following:

  • The employee or owner should have known of the dangerous hazard or condition because a “reasonable” person in their condition would have known and fixed it.
  • The employee or owner already knew about the hazard but didn’t fix or repair it.
  • The employee or owner caused the hazard (broken flooring, spill etc).

Most of the time, property owners are good at keeping their premises safe. Most often, the first situation is the one litigated in these cases. But this is also tricky to prove due to the words “should have known”.

It will ultimately be up to the jury or judge to decide whether the employee or property owner should have known about the hazard that caused injury.

Proving Fault

A slip and fall lawsuit requires a plaintiff to prove negligence. This means that the defendant didn’t act in a reasonable manner. For example, we can reasonably expect store clerks to place warning signs when they’ve recently mopped the floor. If this doesn’t happen, and someone slips on that floor, the store can, therefore, be liable for negligence.

It’s possible to prove whether someone acted negligently by revealing what they knew at the time. The plaintiff will find this out through discovery, which is a procedure where the defendant must turn over surveillance videos, repair logs, maintenance records, and any other similar items.

Testimony

Slip and fall victims can also gather sworn testimony about the accident. Plaintiffs don’t need to wait until the case goes to trial to hear what the witnesses will say. Instead, the defendant and witnesses will conduct depositions, which are recorded interviews.

This testimony is crucial in negligence cases. When the defendant and plaintiff receive this evidence early on in the litigation process, they can understand which circumstances led to the accident. This also helps them determine who is at fault.

Both sides will then take into account how severely injured the slip and fall victim is, and then determine how much the case should be worth. From there, settlement negotiations will begin.

Defenses

Landowners and homeowners must disclose and/or eliminate any known hazards to their guests. They need to tell guests of any potential risks in their home before when they’re invited in. Property owners have some knowledge-based defenses that they can use in a slip and fall lawsuit.

Actual Knowledge Defenses

If someone tells you to watch out for a ladder, a slippery step, or some other hazard, they’ve discharged their obligations by warning you of a dangerous condition. Once you know about a hazard, a property owner or landowner is no longer liable.

Open and Obvious Defenses

If hazards are ‘open and obvious’ it means anyone can see the risk. That means that the owner or landlord of a property doesn’t actually need to warn someone f the danger or fix the hazard.

An example could be if someone decides to walk across a frozen pool or pond- this would be seen as an obvious hazard. However, this defense can’t work if you have no choice but to encounter a particular hazard due to circumstances that the property owner could control. An example could be a stairway with no rail as the only way for you to get to and from your apartment.

Need Help With Your Slip and Fall Lawsuit?

If you’re involved in a slip and fall accident, the first thing you should do is get medical attention. Make sure you document everything you can and speak to an experienced lawyer ASAP.

Wondering if you should consider a slip and fall lawsuit? We can give you expert advice. Get in touch today to learn more.

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I've been helping injured people just like you for my entire 20+ year career in all kinds of injury cases, and I can probably help you, too. You can call me 24/7/365, any time, day or night, to get a free copy of the Injury "Cheat Sheet" which gives you the Five Secrets to winning your injury case. 100% free & no obligation. Or, you can call and ask for a FREE case strategy session where I will answer all of your questions, 100% for free and no obligation. Call 312-500-4500. I look forward to hearing from you!