Proving Slip & Fall Cases

Slip and fall cases, also known as premises liability cases, can be one of the more challenging cases for a personal injury attorney to prove. This blog article discusses some of those challenges, but it is not intended to provide a comprehensive analysis. As with any case, make sure you consult an experienced personal injury attorney for guidance.     

Example: While pushing a grocery cart in the frozen food aisle, a customer slips and fall in a puddle of water. The customer suffers a broken wrist from the fall. 

Since the customer slipped on water at the grocery store, does it mean the store must have been negligent? No. The customer must first prove what duties the grocery store had to protect her from getting injured at the store.  

Duty of Care Owed Depends on Injured Person’s Status

Property owners owe most visitors a duty of care. The duty of care a property owner owes depends on whether the injured person was an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. 

An invitee is someone who goes onto property to do business. A customer shopping at a grocery store is an invitee. A property owner must exercise ordinary care and keep the property in a reasonably safe condition for invitees. A business owner also must take reasonable precautions to protect customers from criminal activities it knows or reasonably should know are occurring. 

Generally speaking, a licensee is someone who goes onto property for non-business reasons. If a neighbor stops by your home, the neighbor is a licensee. A property owner must take reasonable precautions to make their property safe or warn licensees of potentially dangerous conditions. 

A trespasser has no right to be at a property. Someone who sneaks onto a property is a trespasser. Property owners owe no duty of care to trespassers. However, the property owner cannot intentionally injure trespassers, such as by setting up bear traps around the property because people can mistakenly trespass. 

Unsafe Condition Created by Property Owner

Property owners can be liable for creating an unsafe condition on the property or for negligently correcting an unsafe condition. In our grocery store example, it is unclear why water is on the floor. Maybe another customer spilled the water, or maybe the water is leaking from a freezer. If, however, a store employee spilled the water or did a lousy job of mopping up the water, then the store may have created the unsafe condition or negligently tried to correct the unsafe condition.   

Owner Had Knowledge of Unsafe Condition

A property owner can also be liable if it had knowledge of an unsafe condition and failed to correct it. Proving a property owner had knowledge of an unsafe condition can be challenging.  

There are two primary ways an experienced personal injury attorney can prove the property owner’s knowledge. First, the attorney might be able to show the property owner had “actual knowledge” of the unsafe condition. This could be done by showing that the store manager told an employee about the water on the floor. Second, the attorney might be able to show the property owner had “constructive knowledge” of the unsafe condition. Proving constructive knowledge typically requires an expert familiar with the industry. In our example, if an expert testified that a reasonable grocery store would have and should have discovered the water on the floor, the store may be liable for the customer’s personal injuries. Much will depend on how long the water was present on the floor. If the spill happened moments before the customer fell, the store may not be liable because it did not have an opportunity to discover and fix the problem. 

Premises liability cases are rarely straightforward. Proving what the property owner knew about an unsafe condition and when it knew it can be difficult. Contact an experienced personal injury attorney for guidance. 

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