Slip-and-fall accidents are one of the most common everyday occurrences that can create legal liability. While many personal injury lawyers are often referred to as auto accident lawyers or wrongful death lawyers, slip and fall accidents actually tend to be more common. Furthermore, relatively few victims of slip and fall accidents know about their legal rights to recovery and how to safeguard those rights after an accident. Victims of slip-and-fall accidents often have a right to recover some type of financial compensation for their injuries and medical bills under a lesser known area of law known as “premises liability.” This article is designed to serve as a brief guidebook to slip-and-fall liability for victims to research and learn about their legal rights after an accident.
What is “Premises Liability”?
Premises liability is a unique area of law that governs what happens when a person is injured while on someone else’s property (or “premises”). Premises liability applies to all type of accidents and injuries, not just slip-and-falls. Premises liability also covers latent construction defects (for example, let’s say the floor caves in), dangerous conditions on the premises (for example, a rusty nail protruding from a wall), and third-party criminal protection liability (for example, if a bank failed to hire proper security and you were hurt during a robbery). While the law relating to premises and property is quite broad, slip-and-fall accidents are the most common premises cases that result in legal liability.
Premises liability law also sub-divides people into three different groups: trespassers, licensees, and invitees. Each group of people has a particular set of legal protections available to them. The most common slip-and-fall cases arise out of dangerous floor conditions (spills, uneven flooring, etc) at business establishments. Anyone who visits a business is known as a “business invitee.” Business invitees receive the maximum amount of protection under slip-and-fall laws because businesses have a continuous duty to inspect for unsafe conditions such as liquid spills and to either immediately fix the problem or post signage to warn about the condition.
On the other hand, trespassers are the least protected group of people from a premises liability perspective. Anyone who is trespassing on someone else’s property without permission automatically assumes the risk that they will get hurt. While there are exceptions to the trespassers no-legal-liability rule, those exceptions are better explained in another article.
Licensees are afforded mid-level protections. A licensee is a social guest of the property owner. For example, if you are visiting a friend’s home for a potluck dinner, you are a social licensee. As a licensee, you are entitled to protection from any dangerous conditions on the property that your host knows about. In the potluck example, if your host knows that someone spilled pasta salad on the floor and then does nothing to clean it up, your host may be legally liable for your injuries if you slip and fall on the pasta salad. On the other hand, if your host did not notice the spilled food and no one told him or her about it, then there is no liability from a slip-and-fall.
What to Do After a Slip-and-Fall Accident
The first thing that you should do after a slip and fall accident is seek medical care. If the injury you suffered is bad enough that you are reading this article, it is probably worthy of medical attention or at least an ice pack and elevation. Once you have taken the appropriate steps to care for your own well-being, you should do what you can to document the conditions that led to your slip and fall. In the “food on the floor” example from earlier, you should document the food’s location and appearance. A picture is normally best, and if you have a smartphone available, then documenting the accident will be easy. However, if it is not possible to take a picture immediately, try to locate some of the witnesses to your slip-and-fall who may be willing to testify on your behalf. Finally, you should alert the owner of the property that an accident has occurred. In many cases, the owner of a business will understand that premises liability law exists and may simply offer to pay for your medical care, which could result in a friendly resolution to your injury. Even if the property owner is not friendly, it is important to be able to identify who the owner of the property is so that you can properly file a lawsuit when the time comes.