Liability for fall on home's wet, leaf-covered front steps?

by Anonymous
(North Carolina)

I was going to clean someone's house (a personal favor, not a regular job). It was raining that day. As I was walking up the front steps, I fell. I noticed leaves on the steps as I was brushing myself off. I spoke to the oldest son (he is 26), since the homeowners were not there that day, and explained what happened.

I told him I was not going to clean that day because my elbow and knee were hurting and my clothes were wet from falling. When I got home, I sent the homeowner a text and told her what happened. I live in NC.

I spoke to a local attorney who told me about the NC law "Contributory and Comparative Negligence." He asked what could have been done differently to keep me from slipping on the steps. I stated that they could keep the leaves blown from the steps and place something on the steps that would give a more gripping step.

Maybe it was a lawyer's trick question, I don't know. Nonetheless, I felt there was negligence on the homeowner's part because the homeowners are always out of state and they do not maintain their home. I feel that they were negligent in failing to make sure that the place was safe for visitors. After all, their son is home and he is capable of removing the leaves, etc.

The local attorney told me that I was just as much at fault because I could see the wet steps and the leaves. However, in a normal situation, most people do not have a phobia of going up wet, leaf-covered steps, therefore, I feel that I did nothing to put myself at risk.

It would be different if I had stopped, studied the steps, weighed the risk and did it anyway. I handled a normal situation like a normal person would.

Also, when I awoke the next day, I was very sore in my neck and back. It kept hurting so I went to the doctor. I am still hurting and this happened the last part of December. So, should I speak to a different attorney or am I out of luck, due to NC law on this one? What are your thoughts on liability here? Thanks for reading and responding.

Visitor Question:
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ANSWER for "Liability for fall on home's wet, leaf-covered front steps?":

Anonymous (North Carolina):

The North Carolina attorney you spoke with may have been confused. North Carolina does not follow the Contributory and Comparative Negligence rule. Instead, North Carolina follows the "common law" rule of Pure Contributory Negligence.

Under this rule, if it is determined a person in an injury claim had any responsibility at all for the injury, the victim is wholly barred from recovering any compensation from the person accused of negligence. This means if you are found to be even 1% at fault, then you are entitled to recover nothing from the homeowner.

This is true even if the homeowner was 99% at fault. While harsh, North Carolina continues to follow the common law rule of Contributory Negligence.

Under the facts you present, there is a question as to whether or not you share some fault for your injuries. The question revolves around whether you should have known wet leaves on the stairs were slippery. It could be argued that because it had been raining, you should have been more careful, especially as the leaves on the steps were likely wet.

While from a legal standpoint you may be barred from recovering any compensation from the homeowner, that doesn't bar you from filing a claim under the homeowner's insurance. An insurance company has the right to pay out in an injury claim if they believe it is merited.

In that regard, contact the homeowner and ask if he or she will assist you in filing a homeowners injury claim. However, before doing so you must have evidence of an injury which requires medical treatment. At this point it appears your only symptoms of injury are a sore neck and back.

Unless treatment for your soreness requires more than one visit to the doctor, it will be difficult for you to establish a viable injury claim.

The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from an attorney licensed in your state. Find a local attorney to give you a free case review here, or call (888) 647-2490.

Best of luck,

Judge Calisi

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