Slip and fall claims are usually based on the legal theories of negligence and premises liability. That is, a property owner has a duty of care, which includes maintaining the property so that it is safe for visitors. If an owner fails to fulfill this duty, the owner can be legally liable for any injuries that visitors may suffer as a direct result of unsafe conditions on the property.
There are different factors to consider when examining indoor versus outdoor slip and fall claims. For indoor slip and fall claims, the following situations may cause accidents:
- Floors: Floors should be free of debris, oils, liquids, and other substances that could cause a person to slip and fall accidentally. This is especially true in business establishments such as restaurants where food and drinks are served and in grocery stores where there are multiple risks for spills;
- Stairs: Stairs should be especially well maintained, with handrails and warning signs posted. Also, business establishments need to be handicap-accessible at all levels, including restrooms;
- Elevators and Escalators: This equipment can be involved in slip and fall and trip and fall accidents. The floors of elevators and stairs of escalators need to be kept clean, dry, and free of debris. These mechanical installations should always be kept in working order and clear of any debris or objects that might become trapped and create a hazard.
For outdoor slip and fall claims, the following factors are often at fault for causing people to suffer injury:
- Weather Conditions: Outside forces like snow, rain, sleet, or hail can make outside surfaces slippery. In particular, ice can cause very serious slip and fall injuries;
- Lighting Conditions: Poor lighting in some areas can contribute to slip and fall injuries;
- Parking Garages and Parking Lots: These can collect substances like oil and grease from cars, which can cause slip and falls. Uneven pavement can also cause people to trip and fall;
- Sidewalks: The owner of poorly maintained sidewalks, driveways, or other similar areas can be liable for injuries caused when people slip and fall on them.
Thus, in any slip and fall case, the court must examine several different factors to determine whether the owner of the premises can be held liable for others’ injuries sustained in a slip and fall or strip and fall accident. The main factor, however, is whether the owner inspects their property, identifies potential hazards, addresses hazards when they arise, or warns users of their property that a hazard exists.
Is Legal Liability the Same for Indoor and Outdoor Slip and Fall Claims?
As noted above, the owner of the premises is usually liable for those areas of the property that they specifically control. This is the case whether the property is indoors or outdoors. For indoor claims, the property an owner controls usually includes common areas such as doorways, hallways, and passageways. In commercial establishments, all floor areas would be covered.
For outdoor claims, again, an owner is only liable for injuries on the property they own. That is the property that is within a parcel’s boundaries. Areas such as sidewalks and streets are usually maintained by the state or local municipal government, not private property owners. However, state, county, and municipal governments can be liable for accidents on their property. Even the federal government can be liable in a slip and fall case if the accident occurred on property it owns and controls.
In some communities, a homeowner’s association (HOA) may own roadways, sidewalks, extensive landscaped areas, swimming pools, tennis courts, and playgrounds. An HOA would be liable if someone is injured on premises owned by an HOA. Condominium associations might be liable for injuries sustained in common areas inside structures they own or outside of them, for that matter.
There may be gray areas as well. For example, part of the owner’s property, such as a tree branch or roof overhang, may extend across its boundary into public areas.
Thus, courts analyze whether the owner of the premises actually controlled the area where the slip and fall incident occurred. They also consider whether they should have done anything to prevent it. Generally speaking, it may be easier to find a property owner liable for indoor slip and fall injuries as opposed to outdoor slip and fall injuries. However, everything depends on the circumstances of each unique case. Property owners can be liable for both indoor and outdoor events in which a person suffers injury.
What Types of Damages Can I Recover in a Slip and Fall Case?
Slip and fall injuries can be serious and may require legal action to resolve. If a person has suffered a significant injury because they slipped or tripped and fell, they may file a lawsuit against the property owner or other entity that might have been responsible for a property’s maintenance for compensatory damages.
Compensatory damages for slip and fall cases compensate a victim for the economic losses directly related to the accident in which they are injured. These may include the following:
- All of the reasonable costs of necessary medical treatment that the person requires to get well. This would include such items as the cost of hospitalization and treatment by doctors;
- Any losses connected with scarring or disfigurement or other injury that is permanent;
- Loss of income if the person was not able to work because of their injury;
- Loss of earning capacity if the person’s ability to earn an income in the future is impaired;
- Pain and suffering the person endured because of their injuries;
- Other economic losses directly related to their injuries.
If a case is settled or otherwise concludes in the victim’s favor, they can be awarded an amount for future medical care that they may need and other future losses that can reasonably be anticipated and quantified.
In some cases, injunctions may be an appropriate remedy for a slip and fall case. These court orders instruct the business or other property owners to make certain changes, such as making repairs or installing various safety measures to help protect visitors.
In the exceptional case in which a property owner has done something especially reprehensible, the victim may be able to recover punitive damages. Punitive damages are an amount a negligent party must pay as punishment for their reprehensible conduct. But they are only rarely awarded. In addition, in some states, the amount of punitive damages is limited by law.
Lastly, each state has its own laws regarding personal injury damages and limitations. Some states limit damage awards in some ways.
Are All Users of Property the Same in Terms of Premises Liability?
The law differentiates between different classes of people who might be present and at risk of injury on a person’s property. It does not matter if the accident happened inside or outside. The law classifies them as invitees, licensees, and trespassers.
The outcome of a case may well depend on how an injured person is classified. Generally, a property owner owes invitees the highest duty of care. In most states, property owners owe licensees a lighter duty of care than they owe to invitees. They owe no duty of care to people trespassing on their property. People who are present on a parcel of property are classified as follows:
- Invitees: These are customers or patrons who are invited onto the property by the owner. The property owner must warn all invitees of risks they are aware of. They also must warn invitees if the risk of harm is unreasonable. The property owner also must inspect the premises to find out whether risks are present;
- Licensees: Licensees are social guests who have entered or remained on the property for purposes other than business. They have special permission to do something on the property. The property owner is responsible for warning licensees of dangerous conditions of which they are aware. An owner must protect a licensee from known dangers;
- Trespassers: These are people who enter or remain on premises without the owner’s permission. State laws regarding trespassing vary, but in general, a property owner is not obligated to warn the trespasser of dangerous conditions. This is especially true if the property owner is unaware of the trespasser’s presence. Property owners do have a duty to warn known or tolerated trespassers of any dangerous conditions.
A property owner owes a different, special duty of care to children, even if they are trespassers. They must take special precautions to prevent harm to child trespassers.
The attractive nuisance doctrine is a legal concept that imposes a special duty on property owners. It is a duty to treat children, even if they are trespassing, the same as invitees. Property owners must exercise reasonable care to either eliminate potential dangers created by attractive nuisances on their properties, e.g., playground equipment or swimming pools, or give adequate warning of the dangers.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with a Slip and Fall Claim?
If you have been injured in a slip and fall or trip and fall accident, whether indoors or out, you want to consult an experienced slip and fall lawyer in your area for help with a possible claim.
Whether you’re the victim or the owner of the premises, you need a lawyer’s expertise. Your attorney can analyze the facts of the case and tell you whether there is a solid basis for a legal claim against the owner of the property on which a person was injured. Your lawyer can negotiate for you and represent you in court if necessary.