You have sustained an injury in a slip and fall accident away from your own property. Who is liable for your medical costs? Are you liable, is the property owner liable, or is there a middle ground?
Slip and fall cases are sometimes complex and hard to predict, since they are regulated at the state level as part of personal injury law. However, there are some common threads regarding both the injured and the property owner based on the concept of "reasonableness."
Reasonableness and law go together? Jokes aside, the use of common sense is the basic standard for determining slip and fall liability. Since common sense is still a bit subjective, this leaves gray areas in the law that can help or harm either side depending on their actions.
If you are a property owner, you can be held liable if you (or an employee in a business environment) directly created the condition that led to the fall, knew about the condition but did not correct it in a timely fashion, or should have known about the condition based on reasonable expectations of taking care of the property. You can take steps to prevent these issues, and in turn, your slip and fall liability.
- Be Aware of Hazards and Deal With Them Immediately – Claiming ignorance of a hazard does not usually help your case. Have a periodic look around your property or business for potential hazards. Take care of any spills immediately and clear walkways of ice and slip hazards as completely and as quickly as you can. The longer a hazard remains unresolved, the more likely you are to be held liable.
For working environments that have inherently dangerous areas, make sure you have a sufficient employee-training program and safety protocol. Delegate the responsibility of checking the environment to one individual to avoid finger-pointing.
- Show Precaution – Make sure that you take precautions to draw attention to the hazard and warn people to stay away from the hazard. This could include anything from signs to physical barriers to improved lighting that highlights the hazard. A reasonable person must consider it as sufficient warning.
If a hazard must remain in place for some legitimate reason, it is important to keep people away from that hazard as much as possible. Meanwhile, if an area is inherently dangerous enough to require handrails or other supports to prevent slipping, make sure those supports are put in place.
- Security – If you have any dangerous areas that the public has no business being in, make sure those areas are secured. Consider security cameras for public areas — these have been helpful in detecting fraudulent slip and fall claims against grocery stores and department stores. However, you should make sure that your customers are aware of the surveillance.
If you are a victim, be prepared to defend your potential contribution to the accident (often called comparative negligence). For example, were you distracted by texting and not watching where you were going? Were you in an area marked as dangerous and did you have a legitimate reason to be there? Did your actions contribute to the accident in any tangible way (was the phrase "Hey everybody, watch this!" involved)?
Slip and fall accidents cannot be entirely prevented, but they can be minimized with common sense, precaution, and timely action. Not coincidentally, those are exactly the same reasons that will be used to determine liability for any injuries from a slip and fall accident. Who showed the most foresight and caution, and who showed the most recklessness? Whether you’re the slipper or the property owner, try to be on the side of foresight and caution.