Let’s look at two examples of hypothetical slip-and-fall accidents at a business. In one scenario, a large soda spills in the middle of a deli where people line up to order food, the manager is told repeatedly about it by customers, and four hours later an elderly woman (who dines there every week at the same time) slips and breaks her hip. And in another case, an intoxicated man is warned twice not to go into the “Employees Only” area of an auto parts store, but runs back there anyway and slips and falls in some motor oil which had just leaked out of a can minutes earlier in a far corner of the room.
Is the employer liable for both of these instances?
The truth is, most slip-and-fall accidents fall somewhere between these two extremes. And the aspects of each individual incident can have a major outcome on whether the business owner is determined to be at fault.
Premises liability is the area of law which governs whether a property owner is responsible for injuries to others that occur on his or her property. Generally speaking, one of three conditions must be met in order for a business owner to be deemed liable.
- The catalyst for the fall (such as a spill, torn carpet seam, or other dangerous surface) must have been caused by an employee or the business owner.
- The business owner knew about the dangerous condition that caused the fall before the incident occurred.
- A reasonable business owner should have known about the dangerous condition that caused the fall before the incident occurred.
Obviously, some of the verbiage in these three conditions isn’t as specific as it could be. So let’s look at some of the factors that can influence whether a business owner is partly or completely at fault in a slip-and-fall accident:
- How long had the catalyst for the fall been there? (Did a beverage spill two minutes before the fall? Was the carpet torn up weeks ago?)
- Were there any warning signs or barriers near or around the dangerous condition (such as Wet Floor markers or chairs blocking off an area)?
- Does the business owner have a standard maintenance and/or cleaning schedule in place, where an employee would have noticed the dangerous condition?
- If an object caused the fall, was there a good reason for it to be there? (Was it a tool dropped by an employee? Was it a rubber cord cover that ran across a passageway to prevent a power cord from becoming a tripping hazard?)
- Did poor lighting or needlessly cramped or messy conditions contribute to the slip and fall? (Was a light bulb out? Did a center-aisle display serve to direct pedestrians over a crack in the floor?)
- Did the victim have a right to be in the place where the fall occurred? (Did it happen in a customer area or a back room designated for staff only?)
- Was the victim distracted at the time of the fall? (Was he or she texting while walking or chatting with a friend and not watching where he/she was going?)
- Should a careful person noticed the catalyst for the fall? (Did the victim slip in a small puddle of clear liquid or a large puddle of oil?)
All of these questions are taken into consideration when figuring out how much legal liability (if any) that a business owner has regarding a particular slip-and-fall accident. Of course, the victim must also have suffered an injury serious to require medical attention (for which the person incurred expenses) and/or cause pain, discomfort, and significant changes in the victim’s life.
Obviously, there are various measures which can be taken by business owners to mitigate responsibility in slip-and-fall accidents. These include addressing spills and similar dangerous situations promptly, displaying clear signs and barriers to warn customers about where they are and are not allowed to be, and being vigilant about maintaining a safe environment for customers. Of course, having a few high-quality floor mats from Ultimate Mats can be a part of an overall safety and cleanliness strategy for any business. And since a personal injury lawsuit can result in lost time and money that a business owner doesn’t have, an ounce of prevention really is worth a pound (or more) of cure in this situation.