A property owner or business may be held legally responsible for a person’s injuries when a person and slips and falls on business or residential property. Not all slip and falls are compensable, and whether liability arises depends upon the law of the state in which the accident occurred. Generally speaking, a business or property owner will be held liable for injuries that occur as a result of a dangerous or hazardous property condition that a reasonable property owner knew or should have known existed.
Slips and falls commonly occur as a result of snow, ice, rain, water, abrupt changes in flooring, lighting, or a hidden hazard such as a hole in the ground.
When Will Liability Attach?
One of three situations must exist before a property owner may be held liable for a slip and fall accident:
- The property owner must have contributed in some way to the condition of the floor, property, or dangerous surface upon which the slip and fall occurred;
- The property owner or employee must have known about the dangerous condition or surface and failed to do anything to remediate it; or
- The owner or the employee should have known of the dangerous condition or surface because a “reasonable person” in the same situation would have discovered and eliminated the dangerous condition.
The primary question is whether a business or property owner took “reasonable care” in preventing or ameliorating a dangerous condition or surface.
Knowledge of Dangerous or Hazardous Conditions
A property owner will be held liable for dangerous or hazardous conditions he knew or should have known existed. This knowledge will be imputed to a property owner when it is a permanent condition.
Typical hazardous or dangerous conditions are ones that obvious (such as a broken stairwell) and hidden (such as a hole in the ground). A dangerous condition may not be immediately apparent as in the case of flooring that looks normal but has a slippery surface. A dangerous condition may be permanent (such as broken concrete surfaces) or temporary (a liquid spill in an aisle).
In the case of a temporary dangerous condition such as a liquid spill, it is important to know how long the condition existed before the accident occurred. If the spill occurred right before the accident and the owner could have not known of its existence, no liability will attach. If spill is of a recurring nature or was present for some time before the accident, liability will attach even if the owner did not know about the presence of the liquid.
Notice and Statute of Limitations
Some states required a person injured in a slip and fall to provide notice of their injuries to specific landowners, such as a local government, before initiating suit. The notice must be given within a certain time period following the incident or the claim may be denied. As well, every state has a statute of limitations that requires a suit to be filed within a certain time period. Failure to comply with the relevant statute of limitations may result in court dismissal of the suit.
A person who suffers a slip and fall due to the dangerous or hazardous property condition may be entitled to sue and recover damages for his injuries. Generally, a landowner or business owner may be held liable if the accident victim can prove that the owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition and did not take reasonable steps to remove the hazard.