I Slipped and Fell — But Who’s Liable?

By | July 8, 2011

It can be one of the worst and most embarrassing situations you find yourself in: you slip on a sidewalk, step through a crack, or fall in the middle of a store or restaurant. Aside from personal injury – which can last a long time, if not a lifetime – there is the emotional pain of embarrassment, not to mention the potential for further financial losses because of your incapacitation.

Yikes. It certainly makes you think about treading carefully when you’re outside!

But all jokes aside, slipping and falling is a very serious legal issue and can bring up a lot of questions about damages, liability, and ownership. And if you’re someone who’s slipped and fell before, you know that medical bills for cracked bones aren’t exactly as easy as paying off your cable bill every month. Slipping and falling can be a major negative milestone in a person’s life. That’s why you need to know the answer to the most fundamental of questions:

Who’s liable in my slip and fall case?

If you’re liable, for example, then you can expect to see little help in terms of paying medical bills and other indirect costs as a result of the fall. But if someone else is liable, it can mean that you’re able to take them to court – and win. Needless to say, there’s a stark difference between the two situations.

So how do you tell what the circumstances are in your specific case? Easy: you keep reading this article. We’ll explore some different slip-and-fall situations and answer in detail whether or not you can expect to form a case around these situations based on who will be held liable for what happened. So without any further ado, let’s get started.

Situation #1: When you’re liable for someone else falling. So far, we’ve only discussed one example of a slip and fall case: when you’re the one who fell. But what if you have not fallen any time lately but are still in a world of hurt because someone else fell near your property? We don’t have to tell you how stressful this situation can be. But let’s first figure out when you’re liable.

In this case let’s presume that you’re a homeowner and not a business owner. Even as a homeowner with your own property, you will be expected by the courts to maintain a safe way of getting around in your home. To take this example to the extreme, let’s just say that you can’t put a moat with crocodiles in it in front of your door – obviously this can put people who aren’t even trespassing at risk. Similarly, it’s expected that you should create a relatively safe way for people to get around your house. Otherwise you can find yourself liable if anyone should slip and fall.

Even if you think you take good general care of your home, this will be important. One out-of-place stone leading up to your door can be the foundation for someone’s lawsuit against you, so do your best to maintain a clean and safe home – on the inside and the outside. You can be liable for someone falling simply because you didn’t keep your home up to good standards. Remember that even an icy sidewalk that you haven’t cared for can also be evidence against you.

Situation #2: You fall in public. Let’s say you’re at a restaurant and you fall. Whether or not you’ll be able to sue them successfully depends on the specific circumstances in which you fell. For example, if you fell in the middle of a dry, safe floor with no one around to push you, there might be little you can do. After all, let’s say you’re in a Wal-Mart: wouldn’t it be fair to say that Wal-Mart kept their store as safe as possible in that instance?

But there are other circumstances that can affect your case positively. For example, if that same Wal-Mart has a sidewalk outside that is clearly not in safe walking condition and you fall on that, then there is a stronger case to be had. It’s Wal-Mart’s responsibility to keep conditions safe.

What about water on the floor? Well, if there’s a warning about the water spot on the floor, then there may be less liability for the place you’re visiting. But if there’s no warning and the employees showed negligence in attending to that water, then you might have a stronger case should you slip and fall on it. Again, the strength of your case will depend on the situation and circumstances surrounding your fall.

Situation #3: You fall outside a place of business – say, in a parking lot. Many people have questions about parking lots. Is a parking lot part of the place of business or is it considered public domain? Who is liable for your fall if you fall in a parking lot, far from where any employees might be supervising the store? These questions can generally be answered by saying a parking lot falls under the jurisdiction of the property owner. But that doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to sue and win.

How can you sue and win? It will, again, depend on the circumstances of the fall. If you fall because there is a large pothole that hasn’t been attended to in months – and there is no warning or barrier around the pothole – you’ll have a better chance at winning a case than if you simply fell while getting out of your car onto a smooth, safe parking lot surface.

Understanding when you have a case because someone else is liable for a fall is not only helpful when you’ve fallen, but it’s also helpful at other times. Consider the times when you see a safety hazard unattended to: you can use your knowledge of falls and liabilities to warn the owner or a nearby employee, thus potentially saving them a lot of money in settlement costs. It will also help you to be aware of how you should take care of your own business or home.

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