Proving Fault in Slip and Fall Accidents
November 23, 2015
Every year, thousands of Americans suffer serious injuries from slip and fall accidents. Though these injuries are not always somebody’s fault, sometimes the slip and fall is directly related to the negligence of the property owner, or his or her employees.
While it’s true that it’s our responsibility to watch where we step, it’s also true that the owner has a responsibility to keep the premises of their property safe for visitors. Whether it’s a fall from an uneven stair case, a slippery spill on the ground, or a rough patch of floor, when the owner of a property fails to take reasonable steps to prevent injuries, they may be liable for any damages.
So how can we know if someone is liable for a recent slip and fall injury? While there is no exact science to figure out liability, one of the most important questions to ask is whether or not the property owner could reasonably claim that you were partially or wholly at fault for your injuries.
It is important to examine your own role in the accident before beginning any legal process, because you can bet that this is a tactic the owner will attempt. Here are just a few things to look at:
Were you on your phone at the time? Where you somewhere you shouldn’t have been?
A skilled injury attorney will be able to examine the facts of your case and advise you on whether to go forward with your claim. To better understand the law behind slip and fall cases, let’s take a look at how fault is proven in these legal claims.
How to Determine Liability
Slip and fall claims are based on the concept of negligence. Essentially, when you assert a person or group of people acted in a negligent manner, you are saying they failed to take the amount of care that can be reasonably expected of a person in their position.
However, it’s not enough to prove that the owner was careless. To win a slip and fall case, you must also prove that their negligence was directly responsible for your injuries.
To win your slip and fall case, you must prove that one of the following situations resulted in your injury:
- The hazard underfoot—i.e. a spill on the floor, a torn patch of carpet, etc.—must have been caused by the owner or an employee
- The owner or his or her employees must have known about this hazard, but did nothing to address it
- The owner or the employees should have known about the hazard, because any reasonable person managing the property would have discovered the hazard and done something about it
Many slip and fall cases rely on the third claim, but it can be a bit more difficult to establish whether an owner or employee was maintaining the property in a “reasonable way” or not.
What is a Reasonable Amount of Care?
In injury law, the amount of responsibility a reasonable person could expect from a defendant is called “duty of care.” For example, a reasonable person could expect an employee to place a wet floor sign after mopping the floor. If that employee failed to do so, it could be argued that they failed their “duty of care.”
Because it can be difficult to know the circumstances that led to an accident, a judge and jury might look at the owner’s history of maintenance—whether he or she makes a frequent and thorough effort to keep the property safe and neat.
Especially in Florida, it’s important to look at your own behavior. That’s because Florida has rules of “comparative negligence,” and these rules can have a dramatic effect on your final reward.
How Comparative Negligence Affects Your Case
Florida’s comparative negligence rule examines the role of the plaintiff and the defendant in the accident. If you were partially responsible for your accident, you may have a percentage deducted from your claim. This percentage is based on your perceived role in the incident.
For example, if you were texting while walking, and you slipped on a puddle on the floor, the courts might say you were 30% responsible for your own injuries. They acknowledge that the owner bears most of the responsibility for the hazard, but if you were not distracted, then you might have seen the wet patch and avoided the accident.
If you were determined to be 30% percent responsible, and you made a claim for $10,000, you would need to subtract $3,000 from that award. So your final award would be $7,000.
Not all slip and fall accidents are somebody’s fault. But when you or a loved one is injured by the negligence of another, you may be entitled to compensation for your related medical bills and recovery costs. A knowledgeable personal injury lawyer is the best way to make sure you don’t have to pay for someone else’s mistake.
About the Author:
John K. Lawlor, a South Florida personal injury attorney who focuses his practice on complex personal injury, wrongful death, and professional malpractice, founded the law firm of Lawlor, White & Murphey in 1998. Since 1995, Mr. Lawlor’s trial advocacy and litigation skills, as well as his wide-ranging legal expertise, have provided plaintiffs and their families with a distinct advantage when seeking financial compensation and justice for injuries caused by the negligence of others. Mr. Lawlor is an EAGLE member of the Florida Bar Association and an active member of the American Association for Justice, the Broward County Justice Association, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and several professional association.