Trip-and-fall lawsuits are associated with a trip and a subsequent fall to the ground, which differs slightly from a slip and fall, or a step and fall. This will be further discussed below. A trip occurs when the plaintiff is walking, and their toe catches on an object unexpectedly and unreasonably protruding from the ground. A trip may also occur when the ground has an unexpected pit or pothole.
An example of this would be how plaintiffs can trip over an illegal curb-cut made by a property owner, in order to create a driveway. The curb-cut may violate city codes and ordinances by being:
- Too steep;
- In an unusual place; and/or
- Not flush with the adjacent street.
The inevitable result of this is a trip-and-fall incident.
A trip and fall accident happens when a foreign object, such as a broom, is in the walking area. A trip and fall may also happen when there is an uneven walking surface, or a change in a walking surface, such as a sidewalk. These accidents can also occur if there is a lack of sufficient lighting in an area.
Depending on the circumstances of each accident, a lawsuit may result. An example of this would be how if the person responsible for keeping the area clear fails to do so, they may be held liable under a premises liability theory.
As previously mentioned, a trip and fall accident differs slightly from a slip and fall accident. An accident in which a person slips and is injured due to a slippery floor or object is known as a “slip and fall” incident. Some common places for an indoor slip and fall accident to occur are:
- Staircases or ramps;
- Elevators; and
- Floors in places in which liquids or grease may be present, such as a restaurant or grocery store.
Step and fall accidents can cause a variety of injuries, from lesions to twisted ankles or knees from stepping awkwardly on the object. Similarly, a “stump and fall” accident occurs when there is a crack in a walking surface or some sort of object. The individual stumbles over the object or defect prior to falling.
Who Is Responsible for Trip and Fall Injuries?
Who can be held responsible for trip and fall injuries depends on where the accident occurred. Municipalities are generally responsible for maintaining sidewalks and streets in a reasonably safe condition.
A pedestrian may trip over rebar, or a metal stake that is protruding dangerously out of the sidewalk. If the rest of the sidewalk is in reasonable condition, the pedestrian will likely believe that there is no protruding rebar to be aware of. As the pedestrian may be reasonable in this belief, and thus does not need to constantly scan the ground for dangers, the municipality may be held liable for resulting trip and fall injuries.
Another example would be how a person who is descending into an underground garage may suddenly trip on an unexpected hazard where:
- Lighting is too dim;
- The descent is too steep to be considered safe;
- An intermediate landing is lacking or missing; and
- Handrails are lacking or missing.
Because there are certain safety standards that must be met, the garage’s builder or owner may be held liable for resulting trip and fall injuries.
An example of when store owners may be held liable would be when a rollerblader trips while riding a ramp that is in violation of building codes, or if an employee trips on stairs that are in violation of building codes.
Trip and fall claims are a specific type of personal injury lawsuits, and as such are based on the concept of negligence. This legal theory asserts that the person or organization responsible for the injury was careless, and failed to take the proper actions which would have prevented the injury. The theory of negligence will be further discussed later on.
How Can I Bring a Trip and Fall Lawsuit?
If a person is injured because of a trip and fall incident, they may be able to sue the property owner. In order to do so, they must show some type of legal relationship with the person who is legally in charge of the property. Additionally, they may be required to prove that the person in charge had a legal duty to protect or warn against dangers. As previously mentioned, other parties may be held liable for the trip and fall incident, such as a municipality.
Property owners are required to provide reasonable care and maintenance of their property, in order to ensure that it is safe from dangerous conditions. What specifically that duty entails may change depending on how another person enters the property. This is referred to as premises liability, as previously discussed.
The laws associated with people entering a property, and how they are categorized, may vary by state. As such, it is important for a property owner to review the local laws in their state in order to determine their role and how to adhere to state laws.
Additionally, a property owner is required to inspect the property, and adequately repair any unsafe conditions or provide a warning for the unsafe condition. Failure to do so could result in the property owner being held liable for injuries resulting from a dangerous condition on their property, even if they were not aware the condition existed.
In order for a person to bring a claim for injuries suffered from slipping or tripping on another’s property, they must prove at least one of the following:
- The owner of the premises, or their employee, caused the premises to be unsafe;
- The owner of the premises, or their employee, knew of the unsafe condition and failed to take measures to remedy the condition; or
- The owner of the premises, or their employee, should have been aware of the unsafe condition on the premises.
A property owner is considered to be negligent if they do not exercise reasonable care in keeping their premises in a safe condition. It is important that the plaintiff demonstrates that they were not careless in failing to avoid the injury. If the plaintiff somehow contributed to their own injury, their damages may be reduced pursuant to contributory negligence laws or other legal restrictions.
An example of this would be if a person observes a dangerous area of a property that is blocked off with a fence and a sign indicating danger. If they enter that area voluntarily, it could affect their damages award if they sustain an injury.
What Kind of Damages Can a Trip and Fall Incur?
If the property owner is found to be negligent, or breached their duty of care in preventing an accident or injury from occurring on their property, the plaintiff may be awarded damages. These damages generally include:
- Pain and suffering;
- Future and present medical bills;
- Lost income or loss of earning capacity; and/or
- Punitive or treble damages.
Punitive damages can be available in some types of personal injury claims. These are damages that are intended to punish offenders, and to discourage them from committing the same type of offense. They are mostly awarded in particularly egregious cases in which the defendant acted intentionally, or in a way that greatly disregarded the plaintiff’s safety. The property owner may also be ordered to repair or fix the dangerous condition that led to the injury.
In order to avoid the court system, the property owner and the injured party may come to a trip and fall settlement. This would be an amount of money exchanged for the forfeiture of the right to sue in court.
Do I Need a Lawyer For My Trip and Fall?
There are many benefits to hiring a lawyer for trip and fall lawsuits. As these lawsuits can involve many different parties and legal theories, you should consult with an experienced local slip and fall lawyer.
An attorney will inform you of your legal rights and obligations under your state’s laws regarding your trip and fall case. Finally, an attorney will be able to initiate a lawsuit on your behalf, and will also be able to represent you in court, as needed.