In a personal injury case, a plaintiff typically claims that they sustained physical or mental injury due to a defendant’s negligence. One kind of personal injury case is known as a slip, trip, and fall case. In a slip and fall case, a plaintiff slips on something, such as a wet, greasy, or slippery floor surface. As a result of the slip, the plaintiff falls to the ground and injures themselves.
In a trip and fall case, a plaintiff trips on an object, a stair, or some obstruction on a walking surface, such as a hole. As a result of the trip, the plaintiff falls, injuring themselves. A plaintiff who slips and falls, or trips and falls, can file a lawsuit. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff can demonstrate the accident was due to negligence on the part of the defendant responsible for maintaining the surface. If a plaintiff can demonstrate negligence, and can prove they sustained injury from the negligence, the plaintiff can be awarded money damages for their injuries.
Who Can be Sued in a Slip, Trip, and Fall Case?
Under the law of negligence, property owners owe what is called a duty of care to people who visit their premises. A duty of care is a responsibility of an owner to take (or refrain from taking) action to prevent harm to others. This duty is owed if the harm is “reasonably foreseeable” (predictable).
The duty of care owed by a landlord (sometimes referred to as a “premises owner”) is to keep walking surfaces, stairs, or parking lots, free of those defects, debris, foreign objects, or other items that may result in a plaintiff slipping or tripping. The duty is not owed to all would-be plaintiffs. Rather, the duty is owed to those plaintiffs who can be expected to encounter these hazards. These plaintiffs are people who visit the owner’s premises.
Take the example of a store that has a clearance sale on kitchenware. Under this example, it can be expected that people will be walking in and around the kitchenware aisle or section of the store. In other words, it is foreseeable that people will be in this area. It is also foreseeable that because of the heavy traffic in the area, there is a greater risk of injury. Because there is a foreseeable risk of injury, the owner has a duty of care to minimize that risk, to prevent harm.
The owner can fulfill this duty by removing or minimizing hazards that people in this area of the store may encounter. For example, if there is a giant water spill in a kitchenware aisle, the owner has a duty to clean up the spill as soon as is reasonably possible. If the owner fails to remove a hazard, and injury occurs, the owner has acted negligently.
What Must a Plaintiff Demonstrate to Prove Negligence?
To prevail on a negligence claim, a plaintiff must prove four things:
- The defendant had a duty to the plaintiff to exercise reasonable care;
- The defendant breached that duty, either through action or inaction;
- As a result of the breach, the plaintiff sustains an injury; and
- The plaintiff sustained damages.
Even if the plaintiff proves the first three elements, the plaintiff may not recover unless, under the fourth element, they can prove that the defendant’s breach caused an actual injury that is verifiable (that can be proven). Verifiable damages are damages for which the plaintiff can be compensated by awarding the plaintiff a sum of money.
How Does a Plaintiff Prove They Incurred Damages?
For a plaintiff to be awarded a monetary sum, the plaintiff must demonstrate entitlement to compensation as a result of their injuries. Damages that compensate a victim for their injuries are called compensatory damages.
A plaintiff can be awarded compensatory damages for the following expenses incurred as a result of the injury:
- Medical or hospital treatment a plaintiff needed;
- Prescription medication and medical equipment;
- Home health care or nursing home care;
- Lost income or lost wages;
- Transportation expenses, such as ambulance expenses; or
- Physical or rehabilitative therapy.
A plaintiff must present proof that these expenses were actually incurred. To do this, a plaintiff can present medical bills and receipts. A plaintiff can also present pay stubs showing what they earned before an injury, to show the amount of income they lost. In addition, a plaintiff can provide receipts for expenses they had to incur because they were injured, such as expenses for child care.
What Other Damages Can a Plaintiff be Awarded?
A plaintiff may also be awarded non-economic damages, which the law calls general damages. These damages include damages for emotional pain and suffering. Expert medical testimony, from a psychologist or psychiatrist, is used to establish the amount of damages for pain and suffering.
Do I Need a Lawyer for Help with Slip, Trip, and Fall Claims?
If you have a slip, trip, and fall claim, you should contact a personal injury attorney. An experienced personal injury lawyer near you can review the facts of your case, advise you of your rights and options, and can represent you at hearings and court proceedings.