Defenses to Slip and Fall Claims

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What is a Slip and Fall Claim?

The term “slip and fall” is used in personal injury cases where a person quite literally slips or trips and is injured as a result. The slip and fall occurs on someone else’s property. Since the injury occurs on someone else’s property and is often caused by dangerous conditions on the property, it may result in liability for the property owner. Common dangerous conditions include: wet floors, torn carpeting, uneven flooring, cracked public sidewalks, dim lighting, or narrow stairs.

When is a Property Owner Liable for Slip and Fall?

A property owner can be liable for a slip and fall if the plaintiff can prove the property owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition on her property and did not fix the dangerous condition despite reasonable time to repair the condition or create barriers accessing it.

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What Are Common Defenses to Slip and Fall Claims?

The most common defense to a slip and fall claim is that the property owner is not responsible for the conditions that caused the accident nor was she aware of the dangerous condition. Let’s say you’re at Home Depot and you slip and fall on a puddle of water, but the water was spilled by a customer a minute before and no one ever notified any Home Depot employee of the water, nor did any employee see it. In that case, Home Depot could argue that it should not be liable for a condition it not only didn’t create, but was unaware of.
Another defense is that the condition was “open and obvious.” Also known as the “assumption of risk” defense, this doctrine states that if a dangerous condition was open and obvious to a reasonable person at the time the plaintiff was injured, the defendant would not liable for failing to fix the condition or warn the plaintiff. The theory is that the plaintiff could have easily discovered and avoided the condition but assumed the risk she would get injured. What is considered “open and obvious” depends on the particular circumstances and varies from state to state. Moreover, not all states consider “open and obvious” a complete defense, instead considering it in terms of whether the defendant was comparatively negligent.
A "choice of ways" defense may apply when there is a safer course in contrast with the course chosen, and a reasonable person would have recognized the danger inherent in the course chosen. With this defense, the property owner may be comparatively (but not fully) liable for plaintiff’s injuries.

How to Prevent Slip and Falls on Your Property

All property owners can eliminate or at least decrease the chances of a slip and fall accident by monitoring their property regularly for potential dangerous conditions, especially before you host a gathering. For instance, if you invite 100 people to your house for a holiday party, you may want to double check that the stairs leading to your house are free from water and ice which create tripping hazards.
Some insurance carriers will provide a free consultation to reduce potential hazards on property. Having an architect or contractor examine the property will also provide some insight into possible problems. Don't ignore past minor slips or the advice of an expert because these things provide notice of a dangerous condition. Knowing and disregarding the risk of an accident is a way most property owners are found liable for injuries on property.

Do I Need a Personal Injury Attorney?

Slip and fall claims are difficult for plaintiffs to win but can be highly lucrative if they succeed. A skilled personal injury attorney will best be able to provide you with a compelling defense and help you through the complicated legal process.

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Last Modified: 07-26-2017 07:38 PM PDT

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