If you slip and fall because of a dangerous condition on someone else’s property – say a puddle of water on a supermarket floor, or grease on a staircase within a restaurant – your natural instinct may be to assume that you are automatically entitled to collect compensation for any injuries that you sustain as a result of this type of accident. After all, in almost all slip-and-fall accident cases, had the property owner or management of the establishment at which such an accident occurred bothered to remove the dangerous condition that caused you to fall, your accident would not have occurred. However, collecting compensation in a slip-and-fall accident case is not as simple as pointing the finger at whoever is responsible for maintaining the property. The law has established several elements that even the most seriously injured person must prove in order to collect compensation if they have slipped, fallen and become injured. If an injured person cannot prove every one of these elements by a “preponderance” of evidence (i.e., by a showing that it is “more likely than not” that each element of the test is satisfied), their case will likely be dismissed, leaving them unable to obtain any compensation at all, no matter how serious their injuries may be.
Element One: A Dangerous Condition Causing an Accident and a Duty to Keep the Premises Safe.
The first element that must be proven in every slip-and-fall accident is that there was a dangerous condition present, that this condition caused an accident and that the defendant in the slip-and-fall lawsuit had a duty to keep the premises on which the accident occurred maintained in a reasonably safe manner.
The question of whether or not a particular condition was dangerous is almost always contextual (i.e., factors such as the location of the condition, its size, and environmental factors such as lighting conditions are always relevant to determining whether something is “dangerous”). For example, grease buildup on a dark staircase leading down to the restrooms in a restaurant is dangerous because it cannot be seen or avoided by a restaurant patron on their way to the restroom.
There also must be proof that the dangerous condition actually caused a slip-and-fall accident to occur. This usually comes in the form of testimony of the injured person (the plaintiff) regarding what caused them to fall; the plaintiff has to state that they know what caused their fall if their case is to be successful. Using the example of grease on the staircase inside a restaurant, the plaintiff would have to testify that they know that it was grease that caused them to slip and fall down the staircase. It is important to note that, while a person’s natural inclination may be to say that they have no idea how they fell, but know simply that one minute they were walking and the next they were falling, this sort of testimony may likely result in dismissal of a slip-and-fall lawsuit. The injured person might point out, for example, that (i) when their foot slipped, it felt as if they had stepped on grease, and (ii) that their clothes were greasy from having slid down the stairs. Testimony from witnesses (e.g., a witness who examined the stairs after the accident and noticed a greasy coating on them), inspection records, cleaning records, photographs and videos are often important evidence relating to the question of whether a dangerous condition caused an accident.
The proper parties (i.e., those with responsibility for making sure a particular area within a premises is safe) must be the targets of the lawsuit. Using our example of a restaurant, a personal injury lawyer would likely sue both the owner of the property, as well as the owner/manager of the restaurant in question. That is because these are the parties who are most likely to be found to have legal responsibility for this particular slip-and-fall accident. Every property owner has a legal duty to maintain his or her property in a reasonably safe condition; this is also true for tenants who lease space and/or operate businesses within a premises such as a restaurant.
Element Two: Notice of the Dangerous Condition.
Perhaps the most difficult element to prove in any slip-and-fall accident lawsuit is the element of “notice”. The concept of “notice” refers to proof that the defendants knew, or should have known, about the dangerous condition that caused the accident sufficiently in advance of the accident to prevent its occurrence. There are three ways to satisfy the element of “notice” in a slip-and-fall case: (i) Proving “actual notice” (i.e., that the defendant actually knew about the dangerous condition before the accident occurred, (ii) proving “constructive notice” (i.e., that the defendant should have known about the dangerous condition, and could have remedied it before the accident occurred, because it was present for a sufficient amount of time prior to the accident, and to a sufficiently-recognizable degree, such that an inspection would have revealed its presence), and (iii) proving that the defendant “caused and created” the dangerous condition.
Evidence of actual notice can involve statements from witnesses (including, in some cases, the plaintiff) who may have told the defendant about the dangerous condition, from inspection records indicating pre-accident discovery of the dangerous condition, or from the testimony of the defendant himself or herself. Evidence of constructive notice is often found in photographs of the dangerous condition in question which demonstrate it to have been, quite obviously, present for a long time before the occurrence of the accident. Evidence that a defendant “caused and created” a dangerous condition can also come from witness statements (e.g., the plaintiff testifies that he or she noticed streaks on a floor on which he or she fell, indicative that someone had mopped the floor not long before the accident occurred) and photographs of the dangerous condition which tend to show how the dangerous condition in question came to exist in the first place.
Element Three: Damages and Injuries.
Finally, a successful slip-and-fall case must contain proof of damages that were proximately caused by the slip-and-fall accident. In the context of personal injury lawsuits, this sort of proof usually comes from expert medical witness who must examine the injured person and give sworn opinions that the slip-and-fall accident was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries. When the injuries involve broken bones, for example, proving causation as to the injuries, including the extent of the harm, is generally fairly simple. However, when the injuries are more subtle – herniated discs in the spine, for example, which can result from trauma or natural degenerative processes within the body – proving that an injury was caused by an accident is more difficult, and more substantial medical testimony must be obtained in order to prevail on the question of causation with respect to the injuries claimed in a slip-and-fall case.
Contact Us Today for a Free Consultation Regarding Your Slip-and-Fall Accident Lawsuit
Our team is standing by to discuss your slip-and-fall accident case with you today if you call us at (718) 354-8000. We will help you understand how the facts of your case fit into the elements of proof that apply to these cases, and will help you gather the right evidence to prove your entitlement to compensation.