In our ongoing series for National Safety Month, this week TorkLaw is focusing on slip and fall hazards.
Many premise liability cases we handle are due slip and fall injuries a client sustains on another person’s property. So many of these injuries could have been easily avoided with some common-sense preventive maintenance.
Causes of Slip and Fall Injuries
The slip and fall injury claims are often are caused by the following conditions:
- Uneven surfaces: Potholes, pavement cracks, a transition from carpet to a solid surface
- Wet floors: Spilled or splashed liquid, recently mopped floors
- Slippery floors: Spilled or splashed 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
If any of these hazards exist on your property, protect yourself from liability by taking care of them as soon as you can.
Injuries Resulting from Slip and Fall
Common injuries from slip and fall or trip and fall accidents are bone fractures, head injuries, and back or spinal cord injuries.
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. This is important for two reasons:
1. With a broken bone, the sooner it is treated, the faster and easier the recovery will be.
2. If you need to file a claim, your record of immediate treatment will be important evidence in your favor.
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.
Most traumatic brain injuries are minor and fully recoverable, thanks to the human body’s skeletal and other protective systems. 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, watch closely for these symptoms, and call 911 or go to urgent care if they occur:
- Unconsciousness, even if it’s brief, or problems staying conscious (may look like extreme drowsiness)
- A headache that won’t 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
- The person seems confused or is suddenly irritable, agitated, or aggressive
Back and Spinal Cord Injuries
The bones, muscles and other tissues in the back are often injured in a fall. The lower back is the most common injury site.
Types of back injuries 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.
Liability in Slip and Fall Injuries
Imagine you are invited to a party at an acquaintance’s house. Despite the porch light, the front steps were difficult to see in the dark, and the cement surface was uneven and a bit cracked. You tripped and fell, severely injuring your back. You’re facing mounting medical bills and are also out of work for an extended period.
To file a claim against your acquaintance, or their homeowner’s insurance, you would need to prove their liability using the following conditions:
1. The property owner, occupier, or property business manager had a duty to keep the property safe;
2. Negligence on the part of the owner, occupier or property manager resulted in a dangerous condition;
3. The owner, occupier or property manager was, or reasonably should have been aware of the dangerous condition, and was able to resolve the problem, but did not do so;
4. You suffered injuries when you slipped or tripped on the dangerous condition.
In this case, your acquaintance is liable for breaching their duty to keep their property safe for invited guests, which was the direct cause of your injury accident.
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.
Proving liability for a slip and fall injury
For the duty of care to apply, the injured person must have been on the property either as an invitee, a social guest, or a licensee.
An invitee is anyone who is invited onto the property; a store customer is an example. A social guest is welcomed onto the property as a visitor. A licensee is anyone else who is allowed onto the property; for instance, postal employees or delivery people, meter readers, repair people, vendors, etc. In some rare cases, even a trespasser may be included if the property owner created a particularly dangerous condition and did not provide reasonable warnings.
If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident on someone else’s property that was caused by negligence or poor maintenance, you may be entitled to be compensated for damages. Contact TorkLaw to speak to a premise liability attorney today.