Just because a person slips and falls on another person’s property does not mean that there is a personal injury case or that the property owner is legally responsible for any injuries. In order to prove liability — whether the property is residential, commercial, or government – there are several elements that the injured individual must show. A plaintiff’s ability to “win” their lawsuit depends on the facts of the case and the property owner’s level of responsibility.
First, the injured individual must show that there was an unsafe condition on the property, and this is what led to the slip and fall accident. Some examples of unsafe conditions include wet floors, damaged flooring or sidewalk, debris on the floor or ground, or an accumulation of snow or ice.
Second, the plaintiff must show that the owner of the property either knew or should have known about the unsafe condition. In legal terms, this is called Notice. In order for a property owner to be held responsible for the slip and fall accident, he or she must have had a reasonable amount of time to discover and address the unsafe condition. So, for example, let’s say a child in a grocery store spills a bottle of juice across the aisle. The person walking behind the child slips on the spilled juice and hits their head on the flooring. In this circumstance, the property owner would not likely have had sufficient notice, because the accident happened within a matter of seconds, which is not typically a reasonable amount of time to learn about and try to fix the unsafe condition.
Third, if the property owner did know about the unsafe condition but failed to warn others, this might also show his or her liability for the slip and fall accident. If a property owner is aware of an unsafe condition, but they cannot fix or clear up the issue immediately, then they are legally required to put others on alert. So, for example, if a property owner knows that their walkway is cracked but cannot repair the broken slab for a few days, then they should either put up a sign or block the area. They are responsible for letting pedestrians know that the area is unsafe and should be avoided.
There are a few exceptions to these requirements. A property owner is only required to keep their property reasonably safe, not 100% safe. Typically, they are not responsible for unsafe conditions that are open and obvious. People are expected to take reasonable care to prevent their own injuries. Also, property owners may not be held responsible if the plaintiff contributed to the accident; for example, the plaintiff spilled liquid while walking up the stairs and then they slipped on the stairs.
In order for a slip and fall personal injury case to be successful, there must be a responsible party who acted negligently. This may seem obvious, but some accidents are just that – an unfortunate set of circumstances. Generally speaking, there are three different categories of responsible parties. A residential property owner is someone who is liable to tenants or third parties (ex: guests) for any injuries inside or surrounding their property. This could be someone who rents an apartment or a vacation property. A commercial property owner is liable for any accidents that take place at their office building, business, store, restaurant or other commercial venture. When a slip and fall accident happens on government property, there are special rules that apply, depending on the local, state, or federal laws. Often, government property owners will have broader notice requirements or immunity provisions in place that protect them from personal injury lawsuits.