Accidents on other people's property happen, and injuries are often the result, but when someone else's carelessness (or negligence) is a factor, you may wonder about your legal rights. This article discusses a key issue in a slip and fall accident claim: liability. Whether you are pursuing an insurance settlement or filing a personal injury lawsuit, to win your case you will need to be able to prove that someone else—usually the property owner—is legally responsible for your injuries.
Often, the key liability questions in slip and fall cases are:
1) Who are the potentially liable parties?
2) Were those parties actually negligent, i.e. did they cause or fail to prevent the slip and fall accident?
From the perspective of the injured person, in a slip and fall insurance claim or lawsuit, another critical element is anticipating and defending against the argument that the injured person's own carelessness somehow caused or contributed to the accident.
In order to hold another party responsible for injuries suffered in a slip and fall accident, an injured person must typically prove one of the following:
The term "reasonable" often comes up in settlement negotiations and at other key stages of slip and fall cases. That's because, in order to be held "negligent" and therefore liable for damages in a slip and fall case, a property owner (or the owner's agent or employee) must have failed to act as a reasonably prudent person would have acted under circumstances similar to those leading up to the accident. In trying to assess whether the defendant acted reasonably, here are some factors that plaintiffs should consider:
In slip and fall cases, the property owner (or his or her insurance carrier, as when a homeowner's insurance policy covers a slip and fall accident) may argue that the plaintiff is partially (or totally) responsible for the accident that led to the injuries. This kind of argument is made under a legal concept known as "comparative fault," and states have codified the concept in "comparative negligence" and "contributory negligence" laws. The rules in place in a given state will affect a plaintiff's ability to recover compensation if they're found to share some blame for the accident.
In states that follow contributory fault rules, the plaintiff will be barred from collecting any damages at all if they're found to bear any degree of responsibility for the accident. In comparative negligence states, an injured claimant's damages award will be reduced by a percentage that's equal to his or her share of liability—so, a claimant who bears 25% of the blame in a slip and fall case would only collect $7,500 of a $10,000 damages award, for example. You can find your state's rules on the issue in this chart.
In order to determine whether a plaintiff might be on the hook for causing any portion of their injuries, here are a few things to think about:
If the defense can show that the plaintiff likely caused the accident through his or her own carelessness, winning an injury claim becomes unlikely.
To better understand the legal issues in these types of cases and improve your odds of winning, make sure you read up on the basics of premises liability, and slip and fall accidents. And if you're ready to discuss your situation with a legal professional, learn how to find the right personal injury attorney for you and your case.