Who’s Liable for Slip and Fall Injuries?

Learn how to prove who is liable for your slip and fall accident. Get the compensation you deserve for your injury claim.

Falls top the list of non-fatal injuries with nearly 7 million falls reported annually.¹

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

If your slip and fall was caused by a negligent property owner or their employee, they are liable, meaning legally responsible for your injuries. In most cases, that means dealing with the business owner’s or homeowner’s insurance company.

Here’s what you need to know about liability in slip and fall claims.

Who Should Pay Slip and Fall Damages?

When someone else’s negligence caused your slip and fall injuries, you have a right to pursue that party for compensation to cover your damages. In some cases, there may be more than one at-fault party.

Potentially liable parties can include:

  • The property owner who violated building codes in their rental properties
  • The property management company that failed to clear ice or snow
  • The homeowner who didn’t fence pits or wells where children might fall in
  • The business owner who left spilled drinks on the floor until someone fell (also liable for negligent employees)
  • A negligent clerk who stepped around spilled juice in the aisle and didn’t clean it up or put out wet floor warning signs
  • A manufacturer that made faulty stairs, carpeting, or other trip hazards
  • The servicing company that failed to properly maintain the faulty escalator

Negligent property or business owners are typically the primary parties responsible for slip and fall injuries.

Property Owners Have a Duty of Care

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.

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

Property owners are not automatically liable for every injury that occurs on their property.  Reasonableness and foreseeability are important concepts to understand when determining liability for a slip and fall injury.

Property Owners Should Take Reasonable Care

Reasonable actions are those accepted as normal and appropriate by other property owners in similar circumstances. In a slip and fall case, this means there was a hazard 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 slippery 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 steps over and ignores the puddle until another patron falls twenty minutes later, the club owner can be held liable for the patron’s injuries.

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 needed to win a slip and fall injury claim. You need to show all four elements to establish the property owner’s fault and liability for your injuries.

4 Critical Elements of Negligence:

  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.

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 comes from his business relationship with the management company.

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.

  1. Get 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.
  2. File an 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.
  3. Get Insurance Information: Ask for the property owner’s insurance company name and contact information. You might be dealing with a homeowner’s insurance company or a business liability insurer.
  4. Gather 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.
  5. Take Photographs: Take photographs or video of the accident scene, especially the hazardous 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.
  6. Organize Your Paperwork: Create a document 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

You not only have to prove to the adjuster their insured is liable for your injuries, but you must also show that you did nothing wrong. Don’t be fooled by a friendly or sympathetic claims adjuster. The adjuster is only interested in the insurance company’s bottom line.

Insurance adjusters are trained to look for ways to reduce or deny injury claims. The first thing they will try is to pin some of the blame on you. Depending on your state’s type of fault laws, like contributory or comparative negligence rules, 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 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 they can’t pin the blame on you, the adjuster may try to minimize your injuries by arguing you had a pre-existing injury or age-related condition.

Case Example: 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, Christopher Armstrong-Stevenson, who suffered a broken hip after slipping and falling on a spill in the local grocery store.

The man’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 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 during his personal injury case.

When an Attorney Can Boost Your Compensation

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

For high-dollar claims that involve serious injuries, or when the insurance company is fighting your claim, you’ll need the help of an experienced slip and fall 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 for you or a loved one. Most injury law firms offer free consultations to prospective clients.

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

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 >>