Slip and fall accidents: Proving fault

Morton J. Grabel

If you slip and fall on someone else’s property, the property owner may be liable for your injuries.

Thousands of people are injured each year – some seriously – when they slip or trip and fall on a wet floor, defective stairs or a rough patch of ground. Sometimes the property owner is responsible for the accident, other times they are not.

Determining liability can be tricky.

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

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.

The owner of the premises or an employee must have known of the dangerous surface but have done nothing about it.

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.

What is “reasonable?”

Any negligence claim often hinges on whether the defendant acted reasonably. In determining how “reasonable” a property owner is, the law concentrates on whether the owner makes regular and thorough efforts to keep the property safe and clean. Consider 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.

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?

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?

If you tripped over or slipped on an object someone had left on or in the floor or ground, was there a legitimate reason for the object to be there?

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?

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?

Could a simple barrier have been created or a warning been given to prevent people from slipping or tripping?

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.

Your own carelessness is a consideration.

In almost every slip or trip and fall case, you must decide whether your carelessness contributed to the accident. The rules of “comparative negligence” help measure your own reasonableness in going where you did, in the way you did, just before the accident happened. There are some questions you should ask yourself about your own conduct – because the other side will certainly ask them.

Did you have a legitimate reason – a reason the owner should have anticipated – for being where the dangerous area was?

Would a careful person have noticed the dangerous spot and avoided it or walked carefully enough not to slip or trip?

Were there any warnings the spot might be dangerous?

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?

To discuss whether you have a case, call the Law Office of Morton J. Grabel. Please note by reading the information herein, no attorney-client relationship has been created. The information provided herein is not to be relied upon as legal advice for your specific legal needs. Should you have legal questions, contact The Law Office of Morton J. Grabel in Temecula at (951) 695- 7700. Mort, originally from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, graduated from an American Bar Association Law School, has an MBA, a real estate broker’s license, a CA nursing home administrator’s License and is a member in good standing of various local Chambers of Commerce.

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