Understanding Common Slip and Fall Injury Causes

Learn about common causes of slip and fall accidents. Find out if someone else’s negligence makes them responsible for your damages.

Approximately one million Americans visit an emergency room every year as a result of slip and fall accidents.¹ Their injuries range from scratches and bruises to broken bones or even traumatic brain injuries (TBI). Some injuries are fatal.

Most slip and fall accidents are preventable. Government, commercial, and private property owners are responsible for preventing and removing hazards. If they’re aware of a potential danger or should’ve reasonably been aware of one but didn’t act, they’re negligent.

Negligence simply means that a person or entity didn’t act as a reasonable person would’ve, or failed to correct a dangerous condition. An injured person can hold a negligent party legally accountable, or liable, for any injuries that result.

Property owners and visitors alike can help prevent costly injuries by understanding the common causes of slip and fall accidents.

Common Causes of Slip and Fall Accidents

Slip and fall accidents can happen nearly anywhere – a neighbor’s home, a grocery store, a school, or even in government-owned properties.

Although each slip and fall case is unique, most arise from a handful of similar causes.

Weather Related Falls

Poor weather conditions cause a significant number of slip and fall injuries. Icy or snowy outdoor walkways, parking lots, or moisture tracked into a building result in dangerous conditions.

All property owners have a legal responsibility to minimize the risk of slip and falls, no matter the weather. During wintery weather conditions, they need to take specific actions to prevent falls.

Prevention includes:

  • Plowing parking areas
  • Shoveling sidewalks
  • Salting walkways and steps
  • Frequent cleaning of entryway floors
  • Using absorbent rugs on entryway floors

If they haven’t taken the proper precautions and someone receives an injury, they may face financial responsibility for the victim’s damages.

Wet Floor Accidents

Wet floors almost always create a risk to a person’s safety.

Wet floors are usually the result of:

  • Spilled liquids or foods
  • Melted snow, slush, or ice in entryways and exits
  • Recently cleaned or waxed floors
  • Leaking roofs

Property owners must keep their floors clean and dry. They should be aware of the potential for floors to get wet.

If they can’t immediately remedy a wet floor, property owners should warn others about the potential hazard by placing a wet floor sign or cordoning off the area.

Debris on the Floor

Non-liquid debris can also cause someone to experience a slip and fall accident. If certain substances are on the ground or floor, preventing traction between the surface and the shoe, the risk of injury increases substantially.

Debris that can cause slip and falls include:

  • Food items
  • Kitty litter
  • Dirt or sand
  • Marbles
  • Pine needles
  • Leaves

Property owners should take every precaution to prevent and remove debris that can potentially cause slip and falls. When someone reports debris on the floor, it’s the owner’s responsibility to act within a reasonable amount of time to keep visitors safe.

Causes of Trip and Fall Injuries

In addition to bad weather and wet floors, there are other common circumstances that can result in slips or trips and falls.

Uneven Walking Surfaces

Uneven floor surfaces or surfaces that don’t stay in place are the basis of many fall incidents. They cause people to trip or result in the inability for a person to hold their footing.

Several factors can cause level floor surfaces to become uneven and dangerous.

Injuries from falls on uneven surfaces are typically caused by:

  • Broken and cracked sidewalks
  • Potholes in parking lots
  • Differences in flooring elevation that require even a small step up or down

Tripping Hazards

Severe injury accidents often occur because of tripping hazards. Nearly any object on the floor or ground can become a tripping hazard, although some are more common than others.

Property owners should be on the lookout for:

  • Ripped, buckled, or loose carpets
  • Rugs without non-slip backing
  • Merchandise displays
  • Unsecured electrical cords
  • Uneven paving stones
  • Elevators that open above or below other floors
  • Loose or broken floorboards

Falls Down Dangerous Stairs

Stairs are a frequent cause of falls on all property types. Stairs that are older, broken, or lack an anti-slip surface or handrails can all result in an accident.

Also, stairs with clutter or insufficient lighting increase the risk of a fall.

Other fall risks can be present on stairs, such as ripped carpets, debris, snow, or ice.

Animals Causing Fall Injuries

Failure to clean up animal urine, vomit, or other waste can cause an unsuspecting person to slip and fall.

The behavior of animals can cause someone to trip and tumble to the ground. For example, a loose dog could jump up on visitor and cause them to fall. A neighbor’s cat could walk in front or rub against the leg of someone carrying a load of boxes to their vehicle, causing them to trip.

Depending on who owns or controls the animal and the property where a fall occurs, a victim who sustains an injury under these circumstances might have a valid personal injury claim.

Nearly Anything Can Cause a Fall

In reality, nearly anything can cause a slip and fall injury. Sometimes even fear or unexpected situations can lead to or contribute to a sudden fall. However, a property owner is not automatically liable for every injury that happens on their property.

Case Summary: Slip and Fall and “Dexter” Poster

In 2013, Ajanaffy Njewadda fell down the stairs at the Grand Central subway station in New York, injuring her foot and ankle. She fell after seeing an oversized “scary” poster for the popular Showtime series “Dexter.”

Ms. Njewadda claimed that, after seeing the poster, she became fearful, panicked, and lost her balance, causing her to fall to the ground.

She described the poster as “disturbing, provocative, shocking and fear-inducing,” featuring the main character’s face under a plastic wrap with his eyes open.

She alleged that Showtime, CBS, and the NYCTA/MTA  intentionally and negligently created a hazardous condition by placing the poster under or on the subway stairs.

In 2015, her attorneys filed suit against Showtime, CBS, and NYCTA/MTA for the presence of the visible poster in the stairway.

In January 2019, a judge dismissed the case, saying that Showtime and CBS owed Ms. Njewadda no duty of care. Further, because there was no evidence of a physical hazard on the stairs, she had no cause of action against NYCTA/MTA.

Njewadda v. Showtime Networks, Inc., et al

Here, while Ms. Njewadda was unsuccessful in her claim, the case shows that really anything has the potential to cause a slip and fall accident – from a banana peel on a grocery store’s floor to a scary poster in a subway station.

Liability for Slip and Fall Accidents

Liability is a legal term meaning responsibility. If another party acted unreasonably or carelessly and caused your slip and fall accident, they are liable for your damages.

Typically, it’s the property owner who is liable for a slip and fall accident. The injury victim has the burden of proving the four elements of negligence to establish liability.

These elements are:

  • Duty of care: An individual, business, or municipality had a duty of care to prevent harm to others.
  • Breach of Duty: The at-fault party breaches or violates their duty by failing to do what any reasonable person would do under similar circumstances (e.g., failing to mop up a spill in a reasonable amount of time after becoming aware of it).
  • Cause: The breach of the duty of care is the proximate or direct cause of the victim’s injuries.
  • Damages: The injured person has provable injuries, established by medical bills, medical records, and evidence of emotional suffering.

If you can’t provide clear and convincing evidence to the property owner’s liability, their insurance company is unlikely to pay your claim.

Special Liability Considerations for Slip and Fall Claims

Property owners are only liable if they knew or should have reasonably known about a condition that could cause a slip and fall.

It’s unreasonable to expect that they have an immediate awareness of every danger arising in the store.

For instance, if a customer drops a glass jar of pickles on the floor in a grocery store, the manager or employees may not be aware of it right away. Suppose someone slips and falls a few minutes later because of the broken jar and liquid. If the store employees didn’t know about it and had no way of knowing about it at that time, it’s not likely that the store will be liable.

However, suppose someone told a store employee, or an employee saw it happen but didn’t clean it up. In that case, the employee and store are responsible for any resulting injuries. Once they were aware of the condition, they had a duty of care to clean it up or at least post a warning sign.

In this situation, the person who fell would need to provide evidence that the store employees were aware of the dangerous condition and didn’t act within a reasonable timeframe to prevent their fall.

Evidence that might be helpful includes:

  • Video surveillance recordings, if available
  • Eyewitness statements
  • Incident reports filed before your slip and fall if the condition was ongoing (a leaky roof, a broken floor tile, etc.)

Any of these types of proof can potentially reveal when and if a store owner or employee became aware of the danger. If the injured party shows that the store owner or employee was aware of the spill but didn’t act within a reasonable amount of time, they deserve fair compensation for their injuries.

In other situations, property owners must use common sense. If it’s snowy outside, it’s reasonable to expect that they’ll need to act to keep their floors from becoming wet and hazardous. An employee doesn’t have to see the wet floors or have someone report them. It’s reasonable to expect that employees know that customers will track snow into the building.

Shared Fault for Slip and Fall Injuries

Sometimes fall victims can contribute to their own injuries, and the legal framework of comparative negligence applies. The result is that an injured victim will receive less compensation, even if an owner was liable for the injuries.

Definition of Comparative Negligence

Most states have modified rules of comparative negligence. These rules apply when injured parties are partly to blame for causing their accidents and injuries.

In these cases, most states say that your injury compensation is reduced by your percentage of fault in causing the accident.

For example, if your damages are worth $10,000, but you were 25 percent to blame for the fall, you’ll receive $7,500 in compensation. The $10,000 figure is reduced by $2,500, or 25 percent of $10,000 claim value.

Insurance adjusters will always blame injured slip and fall victims whenever possible to decrease the insurance company’s liability. In slip and fall claims, inadequate footwear, distraction while walking, and intoxication are three common comparative negligence issues.

Inadequate or Inappropriate Footwear

Footwear is a factor in nearly one-quarter of all slip and fall accidents. While a victim’s use of inadequate footwear doesn’t excuse a property owner’s negligence, it might decrease their claim value.

There’s a reasonable expectation that people will wear the right shoes for the expected activities or conditions.

For example, you might have shared fault for your damages if you wore:

  • High-heeled dress shoes while there’s ice on the ground
  • Tennis shoes with little to no traction to the gym
  • Shoes several sizes too big for your feet to go for a walk
  • Open-toed sandals that can catch on a stair

Pedestrian Distractions

Cell phones are one of the biggest culprits when it comes to fall injuries. Nearly everyone has a cell phone, increasing the risk of distracted walking.

One study revealed that distracted walking resulted in more than 10,000 serious injuries over a ten-year period.

Besides cell phones, other things such as watching or talking to other people, eating or drinking, daydreaming, or looking through a purse or wallet while walking, can also cause distractions.

If your actions might have contributed to your injuries, you should consider meeting with an attorney about your liability. You can take steps to highlight the at-fault party’s actions and minimize your own.

Falls Involving Intoxication

Slip and falls that happen at bars and nightclubs, casinos, and even restaurants often involve injury victims who had been consuming alcohol prior to the incident. The insurance company for the business will almost certainly blame the victim’s injuries on intoxication.

Excessive alcohol consumption may cause: 

  • slips down stairs
  • falls over curbs or breaks in floor levels
  • stumbling and loss of balance

Alcohol causes several effects on a person’s physical and mental functioning. For example, it can cause problems with alertness, balance, judgment, and reasoning. Impairment to any of these can help contribute to a fall or act as the sole cause for the fall.

When alcohol is the sole cause for a person’s fall, the victim lacks the basis for a slip and fall claim. In these scenarios, the property owner did nothing to cause the person’s fall, and cannot be held liable. But for the fall victim’s intoxication, the accident would not have happened.

You can still try and hold the owner liable if a hazardous condition played a role in the fall. For example, a person might fall because of both having too much to drink and an owner’s negligence (for example, not treating an icy walkway). When this occurs, a victim may still seek be eligible for compensation, but the amount will be reduced per their state’s comparative fault rules.

Slip and Fall Accident Prevention

Property owners and visitors all need to take steps to prevent slip and fall accidents. Prevention can reduce the risk of injuries and fatalities, as well as legal action.

Building owners should consider installing good lighting, safety floor mats, banisters and railings, and take other measures to improve overall safety. They also must keep their properties structurally sound and up-to-code.

Property owners can improve safety by:

  • Maintaining problem areas regularly
  • Promptly correcting conditions in obvious need of repair
  • Monitoring conditions that could become hazardous
  • Listening to the feedback of tenants, visitors, and guests

Commercial establishments such as shopping malls, restaurants, and grocery stores need to be on the lookout for any spills and clean them quickly. They also need to act on any complaints or reports of falls or fall hazards as soon as possible.

All property owners should prevent and eliminate hazardous clutter from indoor and outdoor walkways.

Individuals visiting a property also have a role in preventing slip and fall accidents. Although their lack of prevention doesn’t mean property owners aren’t responsible for a fall, their actions can impact their claim’s value.

Individuals can help prevent falls by:

  • Avoiding distractions while walking
  • Being aware of their surroundings
  • Watching for posted warning signs
  • Wearing appropriate footwear and clothing
  • Drinking responsibly
  • Using handrails or other assistive devices when available
  • Reporting areas of concern to property owners

Do You Need an Attorney?

To obtain a fair settlement for your slip and fall injuries, you must be able to prove that the property owner is liable. For many slip and fall victims, especially those with severe injuries, the best way to accomplish this is to hire a reputable slip and fall attorney.

It’s costs nothing to speak with most injury attorneys about your slip and fall case. If you decide to hire an attorney after your consultation,  they usually work on a contingency fees basis.

With this arrangement, you won’t owe them anything until your case settles. If you have injuries from a slip and fall accident, you have nothing to lose by meeting with an injury lawyer today.


Dustin Reichard, Esq. is an experienced attorney with 20 years of work in the legal field. He’s admitted to the Illinois State Bar and the Washington State Bar. Dustin has worked in the areas of medical malpractice, wrongful death, product liability, slip and falls, and general liability. Dustin began his legal career as a JAG... Read More >>