Slip & Falls

When a person slips on something and falls in a commercial or public location such as a store or government building, the victim may have a liability case against the owner, operator, landlord or all three. But to make the cases there are certain elements which must be proven.

First, was there a duty to keep the premises clean and free of defects. Buildings and businesses open to the public generally have a duty to keep the place reasonable free from hazards that can injure the patrons who are legally on the premises.

Wet floors, slippery substances allowed to accumulate on floors or steps, or objects allowed to be placed where the victim is apt to stumble over it—these are examples which may give rise to liability. There is a duty of the controller of the property to prevent these hazards by reasonable and ordinary care. North Carolina law states clearly that the entity charged with the safety of the property is not an insurer of the partons’ safety. Other criteria must be met in order to trigger liability.

Second, there must be a breach of the duty to keep the premises safe. Let’s say an employee or agent hired by the one responsible for the property mops the floor and leaves it wet but fails to put out “Wet Floor” warning signs. When the victim slips on the floor and is injured there is probably going to be liability. Likewise, let’s say an employee for the entity responsible for the property has known about a slippery hazard on the floor for a sufficient time that he/she could have had it cleaned up before the victim slipped and fell. There was nothing preventing that employee from getting his tools and scooping up a slippery banana peal or wiping up greasy salad dressing, but instead the employee went on break, did other less important things, and did not notify management or get anyone else to clean up the hazard. Liability? Probably. Suppose the employee placed a merchandise crate just around a corner in the isle where a customer might turn the corner and be tripped by the object before he/she had a chance to see it? Liability, probably.

Third, did the store or entity controlling the property have NOTICE of the hazard. In the examples above we discussed situations in which employees or agents of the business or entity responsible for the property negligently place or fail to remove hazards when they know they are there. Liability usually follows. But what happens when the customer drops that banana peal or spills that greasy salad dressing or moves a crate into the way of foot traffic? If a trip and fall occurs, is the property entity still responsible? Perhaps. Almost surely so if the patron responsible for the hazardous condition immediately tells the employee or agent responsible, but then that employee or agent does nothing to remedy the hazard within a reasonable time before the accident occurs. It gets sticky though when the hazard is not reported to the responsible property entity such as the store. How long must the hazard remain before property entity is liable for its presence, even though it did not place the object there. The answer lies in mind of a “reasonable person”, as inferred by a jury. If the jury is convinced by the greater weight of the evidence that the store or property entity should have made periodic inspections of the premises and that the object was on the floor for a sufficient time for such a inspection to have revealed its presence and allowed for cleanup, then the victim of the fall may recover. Often it is hard to prove when the object got onto the floor. Sometimes witnesses can say. In one North Carolina grocery store case the victim had slipped on grapes on the floor. The evidence showed that the grapes were dusty and dirty and showed signs of being trampled upon numerous times. The jury was allowed to conclude that the fruit had been on the floor long enough that the grocery store staff should have noticed it by reasonably frequent inspections and cleaned it up in time to prevent the plaintiff’s slip and fall.

Fourth, did the slip and fall resulting from the negligence of the defendant proximately cause damages to the plaintiff and in what amount? The damages in the form of pain and suffering, lost wages, medical expense, partial and permanent disability, etc., must have been actually caused by the fall. If the accident worsens an already existing condition, then the damages are compensable but only to the extent the underlying condition is worsened.

Last, you must not have been partially at fault. North Carolina is one of a very few states which allows the defense of Contributory Negligence. This means that if the plaintiff is even one per cent at fault, then he/she loses the case. So, with slips and falls, the plaintiff must have reasonably been unable to see the object or the substance on the floor that causes the damages. If the jury believes that the plaintiff should have seen it and side-stepped it, no recovery.

Too many people believe that if there has been an accident in a store the store pays. Not necessarily. Let us help you assess you case to see if you are likely to recover.

There may be other benefits including med pay which does not require the property entity to be at fault. We can help you figure it out. We offer a free consultation call 910-739-4357.

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