Slip and falls are among the most common types of accidents. Slip and fall accidents may seem like a minor concern, but can often result in severe injury, particularly for older adults. If your slip and fall accident happened on a property owned by someone else and was a direct result of negligence, it is important to understand your rights and the laws applicable to the situation.
Causes of Slip and Fall Injuries
Slip and fall injuries are often are caused by the following conditions:
- Uneven surfaces: Potholes, pavement cracks, a transition from carpet to a solid surface
- Wet or slippery floors: Spilled or splashed liquid, grease, or oil, recently waxed floors, ice or snow on walkways
- Unsafe stairs or steps: Wet or slippery, no handrail, loose floorboards, crumbling masonry
- Clutter on floors, steps or in walkways: Trash, debris, cords, open drawers
- Poorly lit areas combined with any of the above
Injuries Resulting from Slip and Fall
Injuries from slip and fall accidents occur often, and can be severe. Some common injuries from these types of accidents include:
Slip and fall accidents often force a hard impact with the body and the surface that caused the fall, often resulting in broken bones. In many cases, a bone fracture from a slip and fall accident will be obvious – broken bones are painful, and often cause dislocation in the area, or even break the skin.
Other times, it’s not immediately clear whether there has been a break or just a sprain. There may be bruising and swelling, but adrenaline may mask the pain.
If you fall and there are clear physical symptoms of injury, such as pain, bruising, swelling, dislocation, etc., see a medical professional right away.
Traumatic Brain Injuries
There are different types of brain injuries, but when the injury is caused by something hitting the head, it is called a traumatic brain injury, or TBI.
Thankfully, most traumatic brain injuries are minor and fully recoverable. However, since the brain is our cognitive center and controls every other function of our bodies, any trauma to the head should be taken very seriously.
If you or someone else experiences a blow to the head during a slip and fall accident, watch closely for these TBI symptoms, and call 911 or seek urgent medical attention if they occur:
- Unconsciousness, even if it’s brief, or problems staying conscious (may look like extreme drowsiness)
- A headache that will not go away or becomes worse
- Weakness or numbness in any part of the body
- Dizziness, or loss of balance or coordination
- Vomiting or nausea
- Difficulty speaking
- A difference in the size of the pupils in the eyes
- Seizures or convulsions
Back and Spinal Cord Injuries
The bones, muscles and other tissues in the back are often injured in a fall.
Types of back injuries often caused by a slip and fall include:
- Sprains and strains: In a slip and fall accident, you might pull a muscle or tear a ligament in your back, causing inflammation and back spasms. These spasms are a part of the body’s protective defenses: they immobilize the muscles, protecting the area from further damage. However, they also cause severe back pain and difficulty moving.
- Herniated discs: The spine is a stack of cylindrical bones called vertebrae, with rubbery discs in between each one. These discs have a hard casing and are filled with a soft gelatinous substance. When a patient has a herniated disc, also called a slipped or ruptured disc, the soft material leaks out and irritates nearby nerves. This causes pain, starting at the injured area and radiating to the leg or the arms.
- Fractured vertebrae: The purpose of the vertebrae is to protect the spinal cord, the bundle of nerves that travel from the brain down the back. When spinal bones are broken, it is very painful and limits movement. A broken vertebra can also damage the spinal cord, which controls movement and feeling to the rest of the body.
- Spinal cord injury: When you injure your spinal cord, the extent of the damage depends on what level of the spinal cord was affected. Typically, the higher the injury, the greater the damage. These injuries can range from quadriplegia, the loss of function and movement below the neck; paraplegia, paralysis of the lower body; as well as pain, loss of other bodily functions, and a weakened immune system.
What are the Laws on Premises Liability Cases?
The legal rules applicable to a slip and fall accidents are “duty of care” and “proof of notice” – in other words, that the defendant was responsible for maintaining a safe property, and that they breached that duty by not fixing a situation that they knew to be dangerous.
Duty of Care
The owner of a property (or occupier such as a tenant) who has control over the premises owes a legal duty to keep the property reasonably safe for all visitors who enter the property. The injured person typically must be either an invitee or licensee. An invitee is on the property with the owner’s consent, such as an invited guest. In terms of businesses, all customers are considered invitees. A licensee may be a repair person or vendor, or someone who is performing a legal duty for the owner, such as a mail carrier or gas meter reader. In some cases, even those on the property without consent may be protected.
A landowner may also owe a duty for hazards outside their property, if the hazard was caused by something within their property, such as a leaky pipe that creates a slip hazard on the sidewalk, or a tree whose overhanging branches create a hazard.
Proof of Notice
Suppose you’re in a supermarket selecting fruit in the produce section. You step on something slippery that causes you to fall and you sustain a broken wrist. Food stores are responsible for periodically checking their aisles to ensure there is nothing on the floor that poses a danger to its customers. Most stores keep a “sweep log” to document when the store was last checked for dangerous conditions and by whom. If the store’s log shows that the produce floor was last checked only a few moments before your injury, the store may not be held liable. However, if it had been a matter of hours before the previous check, or if other evidence, such as video, exists to show that the person who says they performed the sweep was negligent, they may be held liable.
Uneven surfaces, such as cracked pavement or sidewalks are a frequent cause of tripping accidents. Other dangerous conditions include abrupt changes in elevation, or potholes. Whether the sidewalk or pavement is under the jurisdiction of a city, a company such as a store or a bank, the entity responsible for maintaining the property must remedy it within a reasonable time, either by repairing it or blocking off the area with clear signage alerting people to the danger.
Liability in Slip and Fall Accidents
Regardless of cause, to prove liability in slip and fall cases the following conditions must be present:
- The property owner had a duty of care to keep the property safe, whether contractual or implied
- There was negligence on the part of the owner or property manager that resulted in a dangerous condition
- The dangerous condition existed long enough that the owner should have been aware of it and able to take remedial measures to resolve the problem
- You suffered injuries when you slipped or tripped on the dangerous condition
Duties of Owners, Managers, and Renters
In terms of liability for injuries that occur on a property, the party who was in control of the area where the injury occurred will be held liable.
Typically, that is the occupier of the property. For example, if you rent a house or apartment, or lease a property for business purposes, you are the occupier and are responsible for maintaining the safety of the area you rent or lease.
If the property owner retains control over any part of the property, for instance, communal areas such as hallways, pool or patio areas, or other spaces used by all tenants, the owner is liable for injuries occurring in those areas.
Property owners can also be held liable if the dangerous condition was not something the tenant could have known about, or the terms of the lease or rental agreement required them to repair it.
If the property owner has hired a property manager or property management firm to manage and maintain the property, they may also be held liable, to the degree specified by their contract.
What to do if You Sustained a Slip and Fall Injury
If you have been injured while at a store, amusement park, office building or any other type of business residential property or public property, it is important to properly document the fall or the accident, take notes, take photos if possible, and file an incident report with the property manager or incident department. Most importantly, you want to get the proper medical care for your injuries, and speak with a doctor regarding any continuing pain you may have.