When Will A Defendant Normally Be Held Liable in a Slip-and-Fall Case?
The outcome of these lawsuits usually depends on whether the plaintiff has successfully proved that the defendant was negligent and at least partially responsible for all the injuries sustained. When our law firm first considers representing a new client, we carefully review the basic facts of the underlying case to determine if the defendant acted negligently. We then check to see exactly when the defendant became aware of the fall hazard and if that person took any action to remedy the situation.
Falls occur often in the workplace and while people pursue their everyday activities. Many of the slip and fall injuries our firm learns about take place on slippery grocery store floors, icy steps of office buildings and on poorly maintained walkways.
What follows is a brief overview of the key elements a successful plaintiff must prove in these types of cases.
What kind of facts must be established in most premise liability cases?
These types of cases nearly always involve injured plaintiffs claiming that they had a legal right to be on the defendant’s property at the time they tripped or fell. The person then alleges that he fell due to a hazard that the defendant either had good reason to know about – or should have already discovered during regular business activities.
While a restaurant owner might not be liable for a mixed drink suddenly spilled on the
floor by a patron that causes a passerby to slip and fall on the linoleum – that same owner
would normally be liable for failing to have someone regularly mop the area underneath
the cold drink machine that dispenses different liquids because some of them
occasionally splash onto the floor below. The owner of the restaurant could have also
lowered the chances of a fall by keeping a large, absorbent mat on the floor, covering the
potentially dangerous area.
These issues also arise frequently in grocery stores where stocked items may fall or be
dropped by customers – sending slippery substances across wide areas. The courts
expect managers of most grocery stores to have at least one employee either constantly
walking around looking at surface areas in and effort to remove spilled substances – or
at least ready to immediately go mop up after any spills, before a customer gets hurt.
What “standard of care” governs the required behavior of property owners?
The standard of care is dictated by what a “reasonably prudent” property owner or manager should have done under the circumstances that were involved with your accident injury. If the manager or owner failed to act in accordance with this standard, s/he will likely be held legally liable for your injuries. Once a hazardous condition exists and should been discovered, property owners must do all they can to remove the hazard in a timely fashion to avoid liability.
Warning signs or barriers should always be placed around dangerous, wet or slippery areas while a cleanup is in progress to keep everyone safe. Should anyone disregard those barriers, that person may find it much harder to pursue a legal claim if s/he then suffers an injury.
The most common defenses defendants often assert to defeat slip and fall claims
Depending on state law, defendants may assert that the plaintiff was either contributorily or comparatively negligent. In New York, plaintiffs must only be concerned about a claim that they were at least partially – or “comparatively” – negligent in causing their injuries. If the defendant can convince a court that this was true, then the plaintiff can only recover the amount of damages awarded – minus the percentage of fault assigned to that plaintiff.
For example, assume that a grocery store employee recently discovered that several broken jars of a sticky pasta sauce were dropped on the floor in one aisle. The employee then quickly blocked off the area with large protective barrier cones – or yellow accident tape. However, a customer in a hurry decided to disregard those barriers, walks into the slippery and then suffers a bad fall that results in a broken hip.
That plaintiff might be barred from receiving any funds in New York – or else a greatly reduced sum due to his/her comparative negligence. Even customers have a duty to behave reasonably when they see clear signs of a dangerous area. Of course, if no barriers are up and a customer suddenly falls due to a large puddle of water that couldn’t be seen before stepping and falling in it – then that person is likely to recover full damages against the store owner.
The store would be most likely to be held liable for the injuries just described if the spill had been present for quite some time (security cameras might reveal this) – but nothing was promptly done to remove the hazard.
Other careless acts by an injured plaintiff that could also prevent full recovery
If the store owner’s security cameras or witnesses indicate that the plaintiff’s eyes were glued to her smartphone and that she was texting and receiving messages at the time she fell, the defendant might argue that she had the last clear chance to notice the danger and prevent her own injury – but for her careless use of her phone.
Likewise, if an injured shopper was pushing or shoving others, perhaps playfully, just before a fall – that type of careless behavior might also prevent a damages award – or greatly reduce it.
Other uniquely hazardous or careless situations can also affect what a plaintiff recovers
If a seriously injured plaintiff can prove that a dangerous substance like broken glass was strewn all over an aisle floor at the time he turned a corner and began walking down it – and that the store manager admitted the glass had been there for a lengthy period of time because an employee forgot to clean it up, a court might award the maximum damages available.
Courts often hold store managers liable for all dangers (not caused by customers) that should have reasonably been removed sooner. This would still hold true even if many employees had failed to come in to work on a given day.
Likewise, if a customer enters a store in a wheelchair, on crutches or with a seeing eye dog, it’s reasonable for that person to expect some special assistance from the store in obtaining her groceries. If no such help was provided after it was requested, that might increase the value of the disabled customer’s claim if she then had to move around certain dangerous areas that wound up directly causing her to suffer serious fall injuries.
If you’ve suffered serious injuries due to a major slip and fall accident, you need to immediately contact our New York City slip and fall accident law firm. We’ll fight hard to win the maximum compensation available to cover all off your pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expenses and other losses.