Falling While Drunk: Slip and Fall Accidents Under the Influence

A drunken slip and fall is treated differently than a claim for someone who fell while sober. See how intoxication affects compensation.

Slip and fall cases are what’s known as premises liability claims — they focus on the actions taken by a property owner. A property owner may have left a puddle of water on a hotel floor. Maybe merchandise was strewn about the aisles of a supermarket. Or a parking lot could have been dark and poorly maintained. Then, it was only a matter of time before somebody tripped.

The law does not only look for fault in one place, though. If the person who fell was injured in part by their own behavior, something called contributory and comparative negligence may apply. Drugs and alcohol can affect a person’s perception, balance, and other functions. That can make walking difficult.

If you are using a substance and have a slip and fall accident, the property or business owner will likely blame you. Simply being intoxicated does not mean your personal injury claim is a loser. It does mean that you have to work harder to prevail. It may also mean that your compensation ends up being less.

As the claimant in a personal injury case, you have the burden to prove that the property owner was responsible for your accident. Depending on your state, you may have to prove that the property owner had the majority of the fault before you can even get a penny on your claim.

This article will take a look at slip and fall accidents that happen while the injured person has consumed drugs or alcohol. We’ll examine how intoxication can make slip and fall injuries worse. We’ll also address the legal issue of responsibility and how intoxication can shrink or kill your claim.

Alcohol Complicates Slip and Fall Accidents

Doctor and nurses transporting a patient on a gurney

Slip and fall accidents are always traumatic and have the potential to end in serious injury, especially if you land on your head.

Intoxication-related injuries have the potential to become much more severe. A study of the link between alcohol and traumatic brain injury (TBI) showed that the severity of an injury increased where there was more alcohol in a victim’s blood.

Alcohol can also make slip and fall accidents more serious by acting as a blood thinner. Both external and internal wounds may bleed more freely. This can cause further injury or possibly even death.

Drugs in your body can also make emergency medical treatment more difficult. Many drugs, like opioids, can have negative or even fatal interactions with drugs being used to save your life after a fall.

Apart from any legal problems that intoxication may cause, harm to your body should always be your first consideration. Even if a negligent property owner pays your medical bills, that is cold comfort when you are recovering from a serious injury.

Intoxication Can Hurt Your Injury Claim

Intoxicated man holding his head in one hand and a bottle of liquor in the other

The scientific evidence is difficult to contest. Use of alcohol is linked to an increase in injuries from falls. Most adults can understand how alcohol affects your balance and reflexes. Sustained use of alcohol over a long period of time is also associated with degraded motor skills and balance.

The evidence is clear that individuals are more likely to suffer significant injuries while drunk than while sober. The National Institutes of Health have published a study on alcohol use stating that “intoxication is one of the strongest predictors of Traumatic Brain Injuries (TBI).”

Alcohol is far from the only substance that causes these kinds of problems. Marijuana, which has been legalized in several states, also presents a serious risk. Research indicates that the drug affects judgment, motor coordination and reaction time. It’s not a stretch to conclude that marijuana use could then play a key role in your slip and fall accident.

Given the scientific data, if the property owner can prove that you were drunk or under the influence of drugs when you fell, that is powerful evidence. It may reduce or wipe out the property owner’s liability, and thus compensation for your injury.

1. Contributory and Comparative Negligence Laws

You may have a more serious problem with an intoxicated slip and fall in certain states. In states with contributory negligence laws, you may not be able to get any compensation if the property owner can prove that your intoxication was negligent and contributed to your injury.

Even in the more forgiving comparative negligence states, if your intoxication is the biggest cause of injury, you may be out of luck. It is thus critical to be aware of how your state’s law treats your claim when your intoxication was a factor in the injury.

The following jurisdictions have contributory negligence laws:

  • Alabama
  • Maryland
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Washington, D.C.

In a pure contributory negligence state, if the property owner can show that your injury was due to intoxication, you could be completely barred from recovering any damages from the property owner. Think about this rule when considering whether to become intoxicated on someone else’s property.

You may be relieved to know that the majority of states do not have contributory negligence laws. Even so, intoxication can still hurt your claim.

California, for example, has a comparative negligence law that will reduce any judgment by the amount you were negligent. If you were 30% responsible as a result of your intoxication, you can only recover 70% of your damages from the property owner.

Other comparative fault states, like Nevada, are more strict. They completely bar you from compensation if you are more than 50% responsible for your fall. This means that even if a floor is wet and slippery, you may still not get compensated. If a sober person would have been able to walk across the floor without slipping, you’re probably out of luck.

None of this information means that you can’t or shouldn’t drink on someone else’s property. But these laws should make you think and take control of yourself before an accident can happen.

2. But What If You’re Drinking at a Bar?

These rules can seem strict. But what if you’re drinking in a place where drinking is encouraged? You might have a stronger argument for the owner’s fault when you’re hurt by a slip and fall at a bar or other location that serves or encourages the use of intoxicating substances.

In this case, your claim will likely come down to the jury’s analysis of the facts. A bar, for example, should expect its patrons to become at least somewhat drunk on its premises, and should take the necessary care to ensure that its patrons are not hurt. For example, it should make sure that restrooms are dry and well-lit to prevent slip and fall accidents in there.

You Risk More Than Losing Your Injury Case

Woman taking a selfie with an intoxicated man behind her

Finally, keep in mind that even if you can establish a slip and fall claim for which a property owner is liable, there’s still a bigger legal context.

Many states have statutes prohibiting public intoxication. Filing a personal injury lawsuit might reveal information about your intoxication that could result in criminal charges.

The same is true about intoxicating drugs other than alcohol. Marijuana is not legal in all 50 states, and if medical treatment shows that you were intoxicated with marijuana or another illegal drug, your slip and fall accident could come with serious legal consequences in the form of criminal prosecution.

The fact that a property owner is ultimately liable for your injury does not mean you are absolved of responsibility for drug or alcohol misuse. If you have a substance abuse problem or have committed a drug-related crime, those issues will almost certainly be a part of your legal problems. If in doubt, contact a qualified criminal or personal injury attorney for legal advice.

Have Fun, Be Safe, and Be Responsible

Intoxicating substances have been around as long as human civilization. When used responsibly in moderation, the risk of slip and fall injuries is small. And in that event, a slip and fall can absolutely be the responsibility of a negligent property owner who created a dangerous condition on their property, or allowed one to exist.

The involvement of intoxicating substances in a slip and fall injury does make the legal situation more complicated. If you or a loved one has suffered a slip and fall while drunk, it’s important to get good legal advice. Contact a qualified personal injury lawyer or law firm in your state for a free consultation and case evaluation.

Matthew Carter, Esq. has been a licensed attorney since 2004. He’s admitted to practice law in California and Nevada, where he was awarded the Martindale.com rating of AV – Preeminent. Matthew has successfully handled a variety of personal injury and wrongful death cases, as well as trials, appeals, and evidentiary hearings throughout state and federal... Read More >>