Slip and fall negligence causes over one million accidents every year in the US where approximately twenty thousand victims die from their injuries.
Premises liability doctrines and state statutes impute duties on property owners, businesses, and civic bodies to protect people against unsafe conditions on their land.
The law further provides remedies for individuals who suffer harm when people or businesses act irresponsibly.
Typical Slip and Fall Hazards
Many property hazards and negligent acts provoke slip and fall accidents; let’s examine the most common:
- Building Structures: Old depreciating edifices that maintain dangerous conditions or badly built structures can possess defective walkways; broken or uneven stairwells; hazardous parking lots; loose or absent handrails or faulty flooring.
- Surface Hazards: Trip and fall dangers arise from objects or contaminants like oil, wax or food left on floors; damaged carpeting; clutter or inadequate lighting.
- Broken Pipes: Faulty plumbing often leads to water spills or leakage on floorings or walkways.
- Weather: Climate conditions may impose duties on landowners to minimize slip and fall risk. Invitees arriving on the property from rain or snow commonly slip when transitioning from slick outdoor pavements to dry entryways. Pathways may further freeze over in icy weather.
- Occupational Hazards: Construction laborers, housekeepers, kitchen personnel and industry employees are prone to slip or fall accidents while at work.
Proving Slip and Fall Liability
Every state has some form of legislation to regulate slip and fall liability. The common law redresses premise injuries under negligence theory where plaintiffs who file personal injury claims must prove:
- Landowners or business owners held a duty to safeguard or warn them;
- the defendants breached their standard duty of reasonable care, and
- the breach caused actual damages and foreseeable harm.
Property Owners Duties and Responsibilities
State and Common law further hold landowners to the following duties of care based on the plaintiff’s status at the moment of the slip and fall accident:
- Business Invitees: Property owners owe their business invitees an absolute duty of care to inspect their premise for unsafe conditions. Invitees are individuals who come on to land to bring economic benefits to landowners.
- Licensee: Licensees enter land for their own purposes (visiting, social gatherings). Property owners owe licensees a somewhat lower duty of care and must also warn these visitors of known dangerous conditions.
- Trespasser: Landowners typically owe trespassers no duty to warn or protect; trespassers are people who enter properties without permission.
- Attractive Nuisance: Landowners who know trespassers or children will likely come onto their land hold duties (i) to give trespassers reasonable warnings of concealed or dangerous land conditions or (ii) to take reasonable care to safeguard children from harm.
Slip and Fall Defenses
Defendants may cite the following affirmative defenses in personal injury slip and fall cases:
- Injured parties contribute to their own negligence after they perceive a danger and neglect to mitigate risk by choosing to face it.
- Courts must dismiss slip and fall complaints when plaintiffs fail to establish valid prima facie cases of negligence.
- The state statute of limitations moots the complaint.
- No breach occurred because the defendant took reasonable care to avert the slip and fall injury (via signage posting or sufficient spill cleaning up).
- The plaintiff assumed the slip and fall risk since the hazard was visible and obvious under a reasonable person standard.
Slip and Fall Settlements
Over ninety percent of defendants named in slip and fall cases and personal injury negligence claims settle out of court. Personal injury settlements often develop after discovery and before going to trial.
Defendants may compensate slip and fall victims in two forms:
Out-of-Court Settlements: Most defendants pay out-of-court settlements to slip and fall victims in lump sums. Negotiating personal injury settlements often lags because parties spend a great deal of time bargaining settlement terms.
Out-of-court monetary awards are substitutional remedies that compensate victims for their general and special damages.
Structured Settlements: Defendants pay these settlements awards in trust, annuity or in prearranged installments. Slip and fall victims receive structured settlements over definite periods of time, paid in equal sums and on fixed dates.
Plaintiffs may bargain for a structured settlement during negotiations or the courts may order the remedy after approving settlement agreement terms.
The court approved insurance companies may disburse structured settlement payments in the following fashion:
- Elevated First Disbursement–mostly used to pay off past due medical and recovery bills and to reimburse victims for time off work.
- Negotiated Bonus Payments–larger payments made during certain years when victims expect unusual expenses, such as subsequent recovery surgery or educational work retraining.
- Exponential Distribution–lower initial payments that increase over time.
- Delayed Payouts–delaying award payments until specific events occur like retirement.
Fake Claim Slip and Fall Complaints
Nearly all slip and fall claims are legitimate; statistics show less than three percent of plaintiffs misrepresent their damages and harm by trying to fraudulently seek restitution from innocent defendants.
Personal injury lawyers consult with their clients, scrutinize evidence and analyze the elements of their negligence cases before filing slip and fall claims in courts. Though in rare instances lawyers may detect inconsistencies in testimony and in case facts that may indicate their clients are not entering their claims with clean hands.
- Soft Fraud exists when plaintiffs assert misleading claims that exaggerate their injuries to maximize damages. Using pre-existing injuries to substantiate slip and fall claims is another form of soft fraud.
- Hard Fraud is a serious civil offense and can lead to criminal charges. When plaintiffs stage accidents or conspire with others to claim injuries that do not exist, they commit hard fraud.
Insurance companies often try to negotiate personal injury claims directly with victims.
Plaintiffs should know an insured’s policy coverage may not adequately take care of all foreseeable slip and fall damages.
It’s also an underestimate to assume insurance adjusters are a plaintiff’s friend. Insurance companies must generate profits to survive and adjusters help in this mission by attempting to settle personal injury claims for the least amount possible.
Plaintiffs may further admit fault inadvertently when negotiating alone with insurance companies who frequently use the testimony in court to assert full or partial liability on part of the victim.
Claims Match warns slip and fall plaintiffs to refrain from communicating with insurance companies directly when their personal injury claims hold extensive damages.