A slip and fall lawsuit is a type of personal injury claim where the plaintiff or victim slipped and fell on another person’s property and sustained some type of injury or damages. The lawsuit claims that there was a dangerous condition on the property that caused the plaintiff to slip and fall.

Dangerous conditions on a property can include a variety of situations. Some things that might lead to a slip and fall accident include:

  • Weather-related conditions: As a general rule, property owners must maintain the premises in a way to minimize risks related to weather. For example, in the winter they should make sure that ice and snow are cleared from sidewalks and walkways.
  • Trip hazards: Conditions on the premises that might cause someone to trip include damaged flooring or ripped carpet inside of the building, large cracks in the sidewalk, uneven payment, or poor lighting.
  • Structural defects: Over time, houses and buildings might suffer from structural problems. If those are not repaired they can become dangerous for people on the premises. For example, uneven steps, missing handrails, cracked sidewalks, or slippery flooring materials can put people at risk of injury.

A slip and fall lawsuit is one kind of premises liability claim. The theory of premises liability holds that property owners have a responsibility or duty to protect people from dangerous conditions on their property. Premises liability laws apply to homeowners, businesses, and municipalities. If a property owner breaches the duty to keep people safe from dangers on the premises, the injured person can bring a lawsuit against them.

What Serious Injuries Can a Slip and Fall Accident Cause?

A slip and fall accident has the potential to cause a number of serious injuries. Some example include:

  • Head injuries: A person can sustain a serious head injury following a fall. In fact, falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries, which can include anything from a minor concussion to permanent brain damage.
  • Back and spinal cord injuries: A person might sustain a serious injury to their back and spinal cord as a result of a slip and fall. These injuries include slipped or herniated discs, temporary or permanent paralysis, neurological impairments, or fractured vertebrae.
  • Hip fractures: Older people are more at risk for hip fractures, which may have serious long term consequences. A relatively significant number of people who fall and fracture their hip die within one year of the injury. Fractured hips often require extensive therapy and rehabilitation.
  • Dislocated shoulder: Shoulder dislocation injuries often require surgery to repair them, followed by physical therapy and rehabilitation.
  • Fractures and sprains: People injured after a slip and fall might suffer sprains or broken bones. These injuries may seem minor, but can require surgery and rehabilitation. Depending on the age and overall health of the victim, these injuries can be quite serious.

What Damages are Available in a Slip and Fall Case?

As with most personal injury claims, a plaintiff who prevails in a slip and fall lawsuit might be awarded several types of damages. These include compensatory damages and punitive damages:

  • Economic Damages: Economic damages compensate a victim for financial losses resulting from the slip and fall accident. Plaintiffs might receive financial compensation for:
    • Medical bills
    • Future medical treatment
    • Lost income
    • Lost future income or a reduced earning capacity
  • Non-Economic Damages: Non-economic damages compensate a victim for non-financial losses. Some examples include:
    • Pain and suffering
    • Emotional distress
    • Loss of enjoyment of life’s activities
    • Loss of consortium
  • Punitive Damages: In cases where the defendant was grossly negligent, reckless, or acted in a way that indicates a wanton disregard for human life, a plaintiff might be awarded punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant.

What Defenses Can be Raised in a Slip and Fall Case?

A defendant in a slip and fall lawsuit has several possible defenses available to them, depending on the facts of the case. A property owner being sued by a person claiming they were injured on the property might raise the following defenses:

  • Failure to prove the elements of negligence: a plaintiff alleging negligence must introduce evidence proving that the defendant had a duty to protect the plaintiff from dangers on their property, that the defendant breached that duty, and the breach caused the plaintiff injuries. A defendant might contest one or more of those elements. For example, a defendant might produce evidence that they did not own the property, therefore they did not owe the plaintiff a duty.

    Another possible defense is that the defendant did not know that there was a dangerous condition on their property. If the defendant did not know and the plaintiff cannot prove they should have known, they might have a successful defense.

  • Comparative or Contributory negligence: Comparative and contributory negligence take into account the fault of the plaintiff in contributing to their own injuries.
    • Comparative Negligence: A jurisdiction might use pure comparative negligence or modified comparative negligence.

      According to pure comparative negligence, a plaintiff can recover even if they were more negligent than the defendant. The defendant is only responsible for their percentage of fault. So, if a plaintiff has suffered $100,000 worth of damage, but the defendant was found to only be 25% liable, the defendant only pays $25,000.

    • Under the system of modified comparative negligence, a plaintiff only recovers from the defendant if the defendant was more than 50% responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. Therefore, if a defendant was 49% responsible, they avoid liability and do not have to pay damages.

  • Contributory Negligence: Contributory negligence is the system used in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington D.C. Under this system a plaintiff cannot recover if they contributed to their injuries at all. If a plaintiff is only one percent responsible for the injuries sustained in a slip and fall accident, they cannot recover under the contributory negligence system.
  • Assumption of Risk: According to assumption of risk, a plaintiff cannot recover if the defendant can prove that the plaintiff voluntarily exposed themself to a dangerous condition on the property.
  • The Danger was Open and Obvious: A defendant can argue that the dangerous condition on their property was open and obvious. This is somewhat similar to assumption of risk, in that the plaintiff could see that there was a danger and should have avoided it.
  • The lawsuit was filed outside of the statute of limitations: A statute of limitations law puts a time limit on how long a plaintiff has to file a lawsuit. If the deadline has passed, the defendant can ask the court to dismiss the case.

Are There Any Special Slip and Fall Laws in the Northern Virginia Area? What is the Statute of Limitations for a Claim?

There are a few things that a potential plaintiff needs to keep in mind if they have been injured in a slip and fall accident in the Northern Virginia area.

First of all, the statute of limitations will depend on whether the plaintiff is filing a claim for injuries to their person or property. A lawsuit to recover damages for injuries to the person must be filed within two years of the date of the accident. A lawsuit to recover compensation for damage to property incurred during a slip and fall accident must be filed within five years of the date of the incident.

If a person dies after suffering injuries in a slip and fall in Virginia and their family or representative wants to file a claim for wrongful death, they have two years from the date the person died to file the lawsuit.

Plaintiffs in the northern Virginia area, including Washington D.C., Maryland, and Virginia, must also be aware that those jurisdictions use the contributory negligence system. Therefore, if the defendant is able to prove that the plaintiff is at all legally responsible for their injuries, they may not be able to recover any compensation.

Some situations that might be considered contributory negligence and prevent recovery for a plaintiff include the following possible facts:

  • The danger was open and obvious to the plaintiff.
  • The plaintiff entered a property wearing inappropriate footwear.
  • The danger was marked and the defendant had taken steps to warn people on the property but the plaintiff ignored those warnings.
  • The plaintiff was distracted and not paying attention. For example, they were on the phone and did not see an obvious danger or the warning signs.

How Do You File a Slip and Fall Case in the Northern Virginia Area?

First of all a plaintiff must be sure to file their lawsuit within the time period outlined in the statute of limitations. You should document your injuries and keep records of doctor visits, medical bills, lost wages, and other economic losses. It is also helpful to keep a journal or notes documenting any pain and suffering or non-economic harms.

You should hire an experienced attorney who will help gather evidence, identify all possible defendants, and file the claim with the appropriate court within the statute of limitations.

Do I Need to Hire a Northern Virginia Lawyer if I Need Assistance?

If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident in the Northern Virginia area you should hire a personal injury lawyer with experience in those jurisdictions. A local attorney will be familiar with the laws that apply to your case and will be able to provide the best advice regarding your claim, the defenses that might be raised, and your chances of recovery. They can handle negotiations with the defendant’s attorney and/or their insurance company and represent you in court.