How to Prove Liability for a Slip and Fall Accident and Get Fair Compensation

Here’s what you should know to prove who is responsible for your slip and fall accident. Get the compensation you deserve for your injury claim.

Each year in the United States, more than 8.5 million people are injured from falls, and another 35,000 die from fall-related injuries.¹

Slip and fall injuries can happen at home, on the job, or the premises of a negligent property owner.

Most workplace slip and fall injuries are covered by Workers’ Compensation Insurance. Injured employees don’t have to prove liability to get workers’ comp benefits.

If your slip and fall was caused by a negligent property owner or their employee, you have the right to seek compensation for your injuries. In most cases, that means dealing with the business owner’s or homeowner’s insurance company.

Before you see a dime from the insurance company, you’ll need to prove the property owner is responsible for your injuries. Here’s what you need to know about liability in slip and fall claims.

Liability Rules for Slip and Fall Claims

“Premises liability” is a legal term used when injuries are caused by a hazard on someone else’s property.

Property owners have an obligation, called a duty of care, to keep their property free from hazards that could harm people allowed onto the premises.

An invitee or licensee is a person with a legal right to be on someone else’s property. The invitation can be made formally, informally, and can even be implied.

A property owner (or their agent or employee) must do everything within reason to protect people legally on their property from harm.

Property owners aren’t automatically liable, meaning financially responsible, for every injury that occurs on their property.

Reasonableness and foreseeability are important to the success of your slip and fall injury claim.

Property Owners Should Take Reasonable Action

Reasonable actions are those accepted as normal and appropriate by other property owners in similar circumstances. In slip and fall cases, that means there was a situation that any reasonable property owner would have recognized as dangerous and would have corrected.

Reasonableness also applies to the owner’s ability to correct a potentially dangerous situation.

For example, if a nightclub patron spills her drink, and another patron immediately slips and falls on the wet floor, the club owner won’t be liable. The club owner could not reasonably be expected to follow every customer around with a mop.

On the other hand, if a nightclub patron spills her drink, and the wait staff step over and ignore the puddle until another patron falls twenty minutes later, the club owner can be held liable for the injuries suffered by the patron who slipped and fell.

In this situation, it’s reasonable to expect nightclub employees to keep an eye out for spills, and immediately clean them up to prevent injuries to patrons.

What are Foreseeable Dangers?

Foreseeable means the property owner (or their agent or employee) knew or should have known that the dangerous condition existed and that it might lead to injuries.

Reasonableness and foreseeability are related. Reasonable action includes a measure of foreseeability, meaning, if a property owner can foresee that something on the property might cause injury, they should take reasonable steps to fix or remove the danger.

The wait staff who stepped over the puddle on the nightclub floor knew the puddle could cause someone to slip and fall. Because they failed to take reasonable action (wiping up the spilled drink) the nightclub was negligent.

Proving Negligence for Slip and Falls

There are four critical elements of negligence you’ll need to win your slip and fall injury claim. You’ll need to show all four elements of negligence to establish the property owner’s liability for your injuries.

The critical elements of negligence are:

  1. Duty of Care: The property owner (or their agent or employee) had a duty of care to avoid causing harm to others. A store owner has a duty to clear ice from the store’s sidewalk.
  2. Breach of Duty: The property owner breached their duty by doing something wrong or failing to do what any reasonable owner, agent, or employee would do in the same circumstances. An apartment manager breaches their duty by failing to repair a leaking washer in the community laundry room.
  3. Cause: The property owner’s breach of their duty of care was the proximate cause of injuries. A customer suffers head injuries from a fall only because the store clerk left a trip hazard in the aisle.
  4. Damages: The claimant has provable injuries, supported by medical bills and records, and other documentation of expenses.

The property owner may not be the only party liable for a slip and fall injury. There can be multiple parties responsible for the same accident. In addition to the property owner, other responsible parties might include:

  • The property management company
  • A tenant leasing, or sub-leasing, the property
  • A contractor, or sub-contractor, working on the property
  • Other agents or employees of the property owner

Example: Negligent Apartment Manager

During a cold February in Vermont, a water pipe broke in an apartment complex. It was an external pipe, so water leaked onto the sidewalk and froze. Several tenants told the property manager of the sidewalk’s icy condition. The manager kept saying he was aware of the problem and would address it.

The property manager fixed the broken pipe, but never removed the ice from the sidewalk. A few days later, a tenant named Sue stepped onto the sidewalk and immediately slipped on the ice. She fell and broke her arm.

In this case, Sue has separate, valid claims against the management company and the property owner. Whether the manager ever notified the property owner of the broken pipe doesn’t matter. The owner’s liability is imputed from his business relationship with the management company.

(Imputed means an individual is responsible for the negligence of someone under his control, even if the individual didn’t commit the negligent act himself.)

What to Do After a Slip and Fall

What you do and say after a slip and fall can help you prove the property owner’s negligence and support your claim for injury compensation from the insurance company.

  • Medical Attention: Ask for medical help or call 911 immediately after the fall. If you don’t get emergency medical care at the scene, see a doctor as soon as possible. Tell every medical care provider you see exactly when, where, and how you slipped and fell.
  • Incident Report: Ask the property owner or manager to prepare an incident report and give you a copy. They might not give you a copy but will send the report to their insurance company.
  • Insurance Information: Ask for the property owner’s insurance company’s name and contact information. You might be dealing with a homeowner’s insurance company or a business liability insurer.
  • Witness Information: Get the names and contact information from employees, customers, or passers-by who witnessed your slip and fall accident. Ask any willing witness to write down what they saw. Have them sign and date their written statement.
  • Photographic Evidence: Take photographs or video of the accident scene, especially the dangerous condition that caused you to trip or slip and fall. If you were injured at a business, ask for copies of the surveillance camera footage for the day.
  • Organize Your Paperwork: Create an accident file to keep track of receipts and copies of medical records, medical bills, medicines, verification of lost wages, and copies of any communications with the insurance company.

Dealing with the Insurance Company

Don’t be fooled by a friendly or seemingly sympathetic claims adjuster. The adjuster is only interested in the insurance company’s bottom line, and their year-end bonus.

Insurance adjusters are trained to look for ways to reduce or deny your injury claim. The first thing they will try is to pin some of the blame for your injuries on you. Depending on where the injury occurred, you could lose your right to any compensation if you share any blame for your slip and fall.

The adjuster will try to reduce your claim by looking for:

  • Alcohol intoxication, especially if you fell in a bar, nightclub or a casino
  • Horseplay or other careless behavior that might contribute to a fall
  • Distractions like cell phone use, earphones, or young children in your care
  • Inappropriate footwear, like high heel shoes in wintry weather
  • If the injury occurred in a restricted location

If you were injured in Alabama, Maryland, North Carolina, Virginia, or the District of Columbia, the insurance adjuster could use pure contributory fault rules to deny your claim if you’re as little as one percent to blame for the circumstances of your slip and fall.

On the other hand, in states with pure comparative fault rules, you have the right to pursue a slip and fall claim even if you are 99 percent to blame for your injuries.

Most states use modified comparative fault rules, meaning the adjuster can deny your claim if you are equally to blame (50% rule) or more to blame (51% rule) than the property owner for your trip or slip and fall.

If they can’t pin the blame of you, the adjuster may try to minimize your injuries by arguing you had a pre-existing injury or age-related condition.

Case Summary: Jury Awards $1.6 Million for Slip and Fall

In March 2016, Safeway was ordered to pay $1.6 Million in damages to an 85-year-old man who suffered a broken hip after slipping and falling on a spill in the local grocery store.

Armstrong-Stevenson’s attorney convinced the jury his client suffers permanent limitations from his injury, and showed how Safeway engaged in evasive tactics, including failing to preserve video surveillance footage of the incident.

Safeway argued that Armstrong-Stevenson was suffering the effects of old age, telling the jury that “These people trying to get money will do anything.”

The jury awarded Christopher Armstrong-Stevenson $102,000 in medical and therapy expenses and $525,000 for pain and suffering. The jury also awarded $1 million in punitive damages, to punish Safeway for their egregious treatment of Mr. Armstrong-Stevenson.

When an Attorney Can Boost Your Compensation

You can negotiate minor injury claims without an attorney if you only need to cover your expenses with a little extra for your inconvenience.

For slip and fall claims that involve serious, high-dollar injuries, or when the insurance company is fighting your claim, you’ll need the help of a skilled personal injury attorney to get anywhere near the amount of compensation you deserve.

There’s too much at stake to let the insurance company call the shots. Most attorneys don’t charge injury victims for their initial consultation.

Don’t settle for less. There’s no obligation, and it costs nothing to find out what an experienced attorney can do for you.

Slip and Fall Liability Questions & Answers

Charles R. Gueli, Esq. is a personal injury attorney with over 20 years of legal experience. He’s admitted to the NY State Bar, and been named a Super Lawyer for the NY Metro area, an exclusive honor awarded to the top five percent of attorneys. Charles has worked extensively in the areas of auto accidents,... Read More >>