Commercial establishments use bright yellow Caution: Wet Floor signs mostly to warn people to avoid wet and slippery areas. Another purpose, though, is to avoid negligence injury claims and lawsuits brought by visitors who do slip and fall.
The Law and Proper Signage
Under the legal doctrine of premises liability, commercial establishments are responsible for keeping their property safe from defects and dangerous conditions that could cause injuries. This obligation, or legal duty of care, means they must do everything reasonably possible to create hazard-free environments.
The duty of care includes using wet floor signs. Management’s failure to place these cautionary warning signs on and around wet and slippery areas represents a breach (violation) of their duty of care. That breach is considered negligence.
There’s an exception to the duty of care rule, however. To be negligent, employees or management must have a reasonable amount of time to discover the wet floor. If they didn’t have time to see the wet floor and place a caution sign, management may not be considered negligent and therefore not responsible for any injuries.
Imagine the sprinklers above the produce area in a grocery store went on at 3:00 p.m. At 3:05 p.m., you walked down the produce aisle and you slipped and fell on water pooled under the lettuce section. It’s plausible the supermarket is not liable for your damages. That’s because five minutes isn’t a reasonable amount of time for an employee or manager to discover the pooled water and place a wet floor sign on it.
However, if during the five-minute interval an employee or manager saw the pooled water and ignored it, or failed to take action to cordon off the area or place a sign, the store probably is liable for your damages.
In addition, if management knew it had a problem with the sprinkler and didn’t take any action to repair it, the five-minute interval wouldn’t matter. Because management had prior knowledge, it’s restricted from relying on the five-minute period.
When management negligence results in a visitor’s injuries, the visitor has a corresponding right to compensation for his or her damages. Damages can include medical and chiropractic bills; out-of-pocket expenses for medications, crutches, wheelchairs, etc.; lost wages, sick days and vacation time; and pain and suffering (emotional distress).
Common injuries from the absence or improper placement of wet floor signs include:
- Sprained, bruised and torn muscles and ligaments
- Whiplash, and other neck and back injuries
- Fractured bones, commonly hand, wrist, and forearm fractures
- Head injuries, including concusssions and scalp lacerations
What To Do If You Get Hurt On a Slippery Floor
Slipping and falling on a wet floor is no joking matter. Commercial establishments normally use hard tile or linoleum to cover the floor areas. They use this material because of its durability and long-life. It’s easy to maintain, and damaged sections are quickly replaceable.
Unfortunately, directly under these hard surfaces are even harder surfaces, usually concrete or concrete composites. A slip and fall on a concrete floor is potentially devastating and can result in serious injuries. If you slipped and fell in the absence or improper placement of cautionary signage, you may be entitled to compensation.
Building your injury claim requires evidence. The more credible your evidence, the better your chances are of a substantial personal injury settlement. Here are some different types of evidence you should gather to strengthen your claim…
Most commercial establishments require management to complete incident reports detailing the circumstances of a visitor’s injuries. If you slip and fall on a wet area, ask to see a manager. If you believe your injuries are serious, ask the manager or an employee to call 911.
Now is not the time to be heroic or embarrassed. Often, the first words someone who slips and falls utters are “I’m OK,” or “I’m not hurt.” Flopping to the ground is undignified. Your first impulse may be to get up and leave as quickly as you can. Doing so can be a serious mistake.
The adrenaline rush after an accident can easily mask your injuries. The body’s response to slipping and falling can dull the pain you might normally feel from a bruise, sprain, or even a fracture! Show the manager exactly where you fell and point out the slippery substance responsible for your fall. Make clear there were no cautionary wet floor signs anywhere within your view.
Ask the manager to complete an incident report. Although she’ll probably complete one anyway, it doesn’t hurt to remind her. Ask for a copy. The report will eventually benefit you because the store’s insurance company will refer to it during your settlement negotiations.
Paramedic and hospital records
Whatever you do, don’t refuse medical care. You may have injuries more serious than you think. If you refuse medical care and later insist you were hurt, your failure to get treatment immediately will work against you. The longer the time between your injury and your reporting it to management, the greater the likelihood the insurance company will say something like:
You didn’t appear injured at the time of your fall.
You said you were OK and refused medical care.
Something else must have hurt you after you left the store.
If the paramedics arrive, they will stabilize you at the scene and, depending upon their assessment of your injuries, will either suggest they take you to the local hospital’s emergency room or suggest you follow up with your own physician.
If you do go to the emergency room, make sure to ask the paramedics for a copy of their patient assessment or transfer form. When you arrive at the hospital, a member of the admitting staff will create a chart that goes to the emergency room physician. The ER physician will enter into your chart the treatment she gives along with a diagnosis of your injury and a prognosis for your recovery. She’ll also enter any medications she prescribes.
The diagnosis will include your description to the physician about what happened. It’s important to say exactly how you were injured so she can write it in your chart. This creates a link between the slippery floor and your injuries.
Request a copy of your chart. You have a right to copies of all your medical records. The charge for any copies will normally be in your overall medical bill.
Photographs and video
There’s no stronger evidence than a photograph or video of the absence of a wet floor sign. If you can, pull out your cell phone and take pictures of the scene. Focus on the wet area, taking close-up shots and a panned video up and down the aisle or area adjacent to the wet area.
Especially focus on the absence of any wet floor signs or the distance they are from the area you fell in. If you can’t do that, ask a friend to take the photographs and videos for you. If you were alone at the time of your fall, ask anyone who may have witnessed your fall to shoot the footage for you.
It’s important to remember that within minutes of your fall, management will place one or more wet floor signs around the wet area. Once that happens, proving the absence of the signs at the time of your fall will be much more difficult. Although we’d all like to believe managers are honest and will admit to not having signs appropriately placed, there are occasions when management won’t.
Friends and family can be supportive, but because they may have a personal interest in the outcome of your injury claim, their statements don’t carry the same weight as those from independent witnesses who come to your aid. Before any witnesses have time to scatter, ask them for their names and contact information. Although some may tell you they don’t want to get involved, you might come across one who will do the right thing.
Ask for witnesses’ names and contact information. Pull out any paper you can find and ask them to write down what they saw, especially the existence of the wet floor and the absence of caution signs warning of the danger. The type of paper doesn’t matter. It can be on the back of a paper bag if necessary. Ask them to sign and date their statements.
Handling the Insurance Company
There will come a time after the injury when a representative of the business or its insurance company will contact you, usually one or two weeks after you reported your injury. If you haven’t heard from anyone after a couple of weeks, call or go by the store, restaurant, etc. Ask the manager why no one has contacted you. Be cordial and non-threatening. He may calm your anxiety and tell you someone will contact you soon.
If another week or so goes by without change, contact management again. This time make it clear if someone doesn’t contact you within the week, you will seek legal advice. Don’t say things like “I’ll sue you,” or “You’ll be sorry.” Such statements are counter-productive.
When you do hear from the insurance adjuster, she’ll probably ask you to give a recorded statement. If you choose to give a statement, tell the truth and stick to the facts. Giving an opinion or otherwise arguing liability during your statement is a bad idea. Explain the absence of signage, how you fell, and the nature of your injuries. It’s very important not to say anything that might make you look guilty. Avoid any references to your actions that might have contributed to your injury.
For example, don’t say, “I was on my cell phone talking with so-and-so when I slipped and fell,” or “I was late and was rushing to get home.” Even if it was true, you’re under no obligation to tell the insurance adjuster unless she asks. It’s her job to investigate the claim and there’s no legal requirement to help her.
Offer to send the adjuster copies of your evidence, including photos and video, witness statements, medical records, bills and receipts. If you can’t work, be sure to include a letter from your supervisor confirming your lost wages. Once you finish treatment and the adjuster completes her investigation, you’ll begin negotiating a settlement.
Hiring an Injury Attorney
If your injuries are the soft tissue kind such as whiplash, sprains, minor cuts, contusions, or abrasions, you can probably handle your own claim. If your injuries are the more serious hard injuries such as deep gashes, fractured bones, torn ligaments, or head injuries, you need an attorney. Too much is at stake in serious injury claims.
Your attorney can take the depositions (recorded statements) of managers and employees. She can also subpoena company records for previous claims of negligence involving wet floors. If necessary, your attorney can file a lawsuit. When it comes to serious injuries, an experienced personal injury lawyer can almost always negotiate a substantially higher settlement than you can on your own.
See an example of a wet floor injury demand letter here.
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Visitor Questions on Dangerous Conditions and Other Causes of Injuries
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I was at the supermarket and I slipped on a wet floor that did not have any posted signs. The manager saw and helped me up. I hurt my knee, elbow and have pain in my back. The manager asked if I wanted to make a report but I said no initially. I was scared... Read More >>
I fell at the grocery store in a water puddle. Embarrassed, I turned to look behind me and saw an employee of all people. Said employee turned his head like he was pretending not to notice what just happened and didn’t even go get a wet floor sign. Or clean it up. I told customer... Read More >>
I took a fall at a mall yesterday. Someone must have spilled a full Sprite as the wet spot was 3 to 5 feet wide with a few ice cubes. When I was down on the ground the security guard began saying, “Oh my god, I’m here because it’s taking so long for housekeeping. I’ve... Read More >>
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Last Thursday I was at school near the shampoo bowls about to wash my client’s hair. I started to walk to get the shampoo (hadn’t turned the water on yet) and I fell, HARD. So immediately I started to panic and I noticed I hurt my left hip and my left toe. There weren’t any... Read More >>
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I fell in a restaurant. The establishment had a slick floor with no wet floor signs and curled up carpeting pieces over the tile area that was already slick. I slipped and fell face first knocking me unconscious for a few minutes and knocking my bottom teeth through my bottom lip. The owner did not... Read More >>
I slipped and fell yesterday at a major chain retail store. No wet floor signs were out stating the floor was wet. I filed an accident report with the manager regarding the fall. Today I’m in serious pain. I don’t want to go to the doctor because I don’t have good insurance coverage. What should... Read More >>
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I was walking up a dock at Grand Lake (in Oklahoma) at a privately owned r.v. park and fell on a piece of rusty metal or pipe that was sticking out of the ground at the top of the dock, due to construction work that was being done on the dock. The pipes and metal... Read More >>