Help! I’ve Fallen and I Can’t Get Up!

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What should you do if you are involved in a slip/trip and fall

One of the first cases I ever worked on as an attorney involved a slip and fall case that occurred when my client was walking through the lobby of an office building and slipped on a recently mopped floor. As my client struggled to get to his feet, the janitor who had just mopped the floor came over to help my client and said, “I told my boss that I couldn’t find the yellow warning signs to put out, but he told me to go ahead and mop the floor.” After the insurance company confirmed what the janitor told my client, the case settled shortly thereafter.

Slip and falls and trip and falls are some of the most common cases in personal injury, and they account for a large number of emergency room visits. While these cases are common, they are not always easy cases to prove. In this blog, I will discuss what is necessary to win a slip/trip and fall case, and what you should do if you are involved in a slip/trip and fall.

What is a Slip/Trip and Fall Case?

Slip/trip and fall cases are known in the law premises liability cases. In order to successfully sue a property owner in a premises liability case, you must be able to show (1) there was an unreasonably dangerous condition on the property, (2) the property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition, (3) the property owner failed to correct or warn about the dangerous condition, (4) you suffered an injury as a result of the dangerous condition. In the example I gave above, my client slipped on the mopped floor, the wet floor created an unreasonably dangerous condition. The property owner (through its employees) knew that the wet floor caused the dangerous condition. However, the property owner did not warn of the dangerous condition, and my client suffered an injury as a result of the dangerous condition. Simple!

However, in most cases, the facts are not so clear. Usually, when there is an issue about whether a property owner is liable for a slip/trip and fall, the issue usually centers around whether the property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition of the property. Obviously, the property owner doesn’t want to pay for the injuries caused by a slip/trip and fall, and therefore, it is in the owner’s interest to deny that it had any knowledge of the dangerous condition. It is the plaintiff’s attorney’s job to prove that they did know.

Knowledge of a dangerous condition can be shown in two ways. First, it is possible to show actual knowledge. In the example of my guy falling on the wet floor, the property owner knew that the floor was wet because its employee was mopping the floor. That is actual knowledge. The other option is to show that the property owner should have known of the dangerous condition. This is known as constructive knowledge.

The law places a duty on a property owner to reasonably inspect its property to make sure that there are no dangerous conditions on the premises. However, this does not mean that the property owner must constantly be walking around looking for dangerous conditions. Otherwise, the property owner would not be able to operate its business. The key here is that the property owner must reasonably inspect its property.

Take for example a grocery store. Grocery stores are common locations for slip/trip and fall cases, and slip/trip and falls account for nearly 60% of all injury claims against grocery stores. The reason for this is the high amount of foot traffic and the fact that items on the shelves can end up on the ground.

Imagine that you are walking down the grocery aisle and a kid in front of you knocks a jar off the shelf, it breaks, and seconds later, you slip in the liquid on the floor. In this case, the property owner (the grocery store) did not have enough time to discovery the dangerous condition and clean it up. Therefore, the grocery store does not have constructive knowledge of the condition. However, if the facts are changed so that the kid knocked the jar off the shelf an hour before you slipped in it, the grocery store would have had a reasonable amount of time to discovery the dangerous condition and clean it up. In this scenario, the grocery store would have constructive knowledge.

It’s important that if you are going to make a claim for a slip/trip and fall, that you hire an attorney who understands what is needed to show that the property owner had knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused your injury. In the years that I have been practicing law, I have probably written more legal briefs about whether the property owner had knowledge (both actual or constructive) than any other legal topic I have dealt with.

What Should I do if I Slip/Trip and Fall?

The most important thing to do immediately after you suffer a slip/trip and fall is assess your health. Can you reasonably get up, or would getting up cause additional damage? After you determine your health, document the incident. If you are in a grocery store or other retail business, find the manager and make and incident report. If there are any witnesses, get their contact information. If you have your phone on you, take pictures of what you slipped/tripped on and the area surrounding object that caused you to fall. This documentation will be important when making a claim for your injuries.

Next, seek medical treatment. Over the years, I’ve had many clients who avoid going to the doctor after a slip/trip and fall until the pain from their injuries is unbearable. Usually when I ask them why, they say that they didn’t go to the doctor sooner because they were embarrassed. As I said, slip/trip and fall cases are very common. It’s not your fault that the property owner didn’t correct or warn about a dangerous condition. Don’t be embarrassed, get help!

Finally, you should talk to an attorney about making a claim against the property owner. Injuries from slip/trip and fall cases can be significant and often involve injuries to the back and neck. An experienced attorney can help you understand your rights and help you make a claim for your damages. The Law Office of Shaw Clifford is happy to help you if you have been injured.

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