Home > Blog > Slip & Falls - It Will Happen To You

Slip & Falls - It Will Happen To You

Posted by:

Slips and falls are a normal part of everyday life...things fall on or drip on the ground, smooth surfaces become uneven and areas become slick.  Some things like drainage grates or entryway mats are intentionally put on the ground as they serve a purpose.  With that in mind, a property owner or resident cannot always be held responsible for immediately picking up or cleaning every slippery substance on a floor.   We all have an obligation to watch where we're going.

However, there are accidents taking place every day in which a property owner / operator should have taken steps to prevent.   Unlike most auto collision cases in which liability is not disputed, liability is almost always disputed in fall cases.

To be legally responsible for the injuries you suffered from slipping or tripping and falling on someone else's property, one of the following must be true:

  1. The owner of the premises or an employee must have caused the spill, worn or torn spot, or other slippery or dangerous surface or item to be underfoot.
  2. The owner of the premises or an employee must have known of the dangerous surface but done nothing about it.
  3.  The owner of the premises or an employee should have known of the dangerous surface because a "reasonable" person taking care of the property would have discovered and removed or repaired it.

According to Attorney Jeff Morgan of LeBell, Dobroski, Morgan & Meylink, LLC in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the third situation is the most common, but is also less clear-cut than the first two because of those pesky words "should have known."  "Liability in these cases is often decided by common sense," said Morgan. " Judges and juries determine whether the owner or occupier of property was careful by deciding if those individuals took reasonable steps to keep the property safe.  To make that determination, the law concentrates on whether the owner makes regular and thorough efforts to keep the property safe and clean".

When it comes to slip and fall accidents, here are some initial questions you can ask to determine whether a property or business owner may be liable for your slip or trip and fall injuries:

  1. If you tripped over a torn, broken, or bulging area of carpet, floor, or ground, or slipped on a wet or loose area, had the dangerous spot been there long enough that the owner should have known about it?
  2. Does the property owner have a regular procedure for examining and cleaning or repairing the premises? If so, what proof does the owner have of this regular maintenance?
  3. If you tripped over or slipped on an object someone had placed or left on or in the floor or ground, was there a legitimate reason for the object to be there?
  4. If there once had been a good reason for the object to be there but that reason no longer exists, could the object have been removed or covered or otherwise made safe?
  5. Was there a safer place the object could have been located, or could it have been placed in a safer manner, without much greater inconvenience or expense to the property owner or operator?
  6. Could a simple barrier have been created or a warning been given to prevent people from slipping or tripping?
  7. Did poor or broken lighting contribute to the accident?

If the answers to one or more of these questions come out in your favor, you may have a good claim for compensation. However, you must still think about whether your own carelessness contributed in any significant way to your accident.  In almost every slip or trip and fall case, you must decide whether your carelessness contributed to the accident. By asking yourself the following, you can also determine your part in the accident (and expect the insurance adjuster to ask them too!)

  1. Did you have a legitimate reason -- a reason the owner should have anticipated -- for being where the dangerous area was?
  2. Would a careful person have noticed the dangerous spot and avoided it, or walked carefully enough not to slip or trip?
  3. Were there any warnings that the spot might be dangerous?
  4. Were you doing anything that distracted you from paying attention to where you were going, or were you running, jumping, or fooling around in a way that made falling more likely?

If fall injuries are obviously the result of the fall, for example, a broken arm or body bruises where the person hit the ground, a legal case is easier to pursue.   If the injuries are soft tissue damage and not visible, arguing in favor of the plaintiff can be more difficult.  If you do fall and think that the owner/operator may be liable for the accident in some way, here are some steps you should take immediately. 

  1. If you are able, notify security to file an incident report.
  2. Take a picture of anything you think makes the premise owner liable. Pictures can be e-mailed or shown to a lawyer who can then get a gut feeling for whether you have a case without the lawyer having to spend time visiting the site or spend money to send out an investigator to get pictures.
  3. Do not mistake politely expressed concern for your injury as an admission of liability. If you report a fall and injury to a business owner they will naturally treat you with compassion and courtesy, but that is not an admission of liability.  Be careful what you say to those business owners / staff in these instances.  

 Who is responsible for an injury resulting from a slip and fall accident? Many thousands of people are injured each year -- some very seriously -- when they slip or trip and fall on a dangerous floor, a flight of stairs, or a rough patch of ground. Sometimes the property owner is responsible for the accident, and sometimes he or she is not.   If you're injured and don't believe it is your fault, contact an attorney and provide them with as much detail as possible.   A good attorney will be able to evaluate your situation and advise you as to next steps.