Many people think that simply because they got hurt on someone else’s property, the property owner’s insurance will cover any personal injury claim they decide to make. That's not always correct. As in almost any personal injury case, there must be some measure of fault (usually that means negligence) in order for the claim to be successful. Read on to learn more.
Under a legal theory known as premises liability, a homeowner is usually only liable for an accident if their negligence was a cause of what happened. Simply because you fell does not mean the homeowner was negligent. Simply because there may have been a slippery surface or some other unsafe condition on the homeowner’s property does not mean the homeowner was negligent. The condition that caused your injury had to have been unreasonably unsafe. (Note that the medical payments provision of the homeowner’s insurance policy might cover some of your medical bills stemming from the slip and fall, but the homeowner is not liable unless he or she was somehow legally at fault for the accident, and that means the liability protection of the policy won't automatically cover a slip and fall.)
Most examples of slip and fall accidents on residential property involve slipping or tripping on stairs, slipping or tripping on rugs, carpets, or the floor, or slipping or tripping on sidewalks or on ice or snow. Let's take a closer look at some of these scenarios.
Stair accidents can often be the result of negligence, but sometimes people trip on stairs through some fault of their own, or through an unavoidable accident—at least in terms of the homeowner's potential liability. For example, a party guest might be texting while walking downstairs, and could lose their footing because they're not paying attention to where they're going. That is not the homeowner’s fault.
But staircases can also be unsafe in ways people (including the homeowner) might not even notice. For example, the following factors, among others, can contribute to someone slipping and falling down a set of stairs:
Rugs, carpets, and floors can also give rise to homeowner liability for a slip (or trip) and fall. Area rugs without a proper grip pad underneath are a serious slipping hazard. Visitors can trip over carpets with holes in them or carpets that are frayed at the edge. Flooring (tiles) can be broken or improperly laid, or just dangerously slippery, especially if they are wet or freshly waxed.
Slipping or tripping on ice or snow on residential property causes a lot of injuries and a lot of litigation. However, winning an ice or snow case against a homeowner is not easy.
Although the law in most states is relatively clear with respect to ice and snow—homeowners have a duty to act reasonably to remove the ice and snow and make the sidewalk or path reasonably safe—juries in cold weather states are often reluctant to find homeowners liable in such cases. Jurors in these states tend to feel that ice and snow is a known hazard, and people should be careful. This usually keeps personal injury settlement value relatively low for ice and snow cases against private homeowners.
Homeowners must act reasonably to keep their paths and walkways in a reasonable state of repair. It is generally the municipality’s job to repair public sidewalks. Tripping over a broken piece of sidewalk can give rise to a negligence claim, depending on the size of the break in the sidewalk. Learn more about liability for a sidewalk slip and fall.
Theoretically, after a slip and fall accident, you should take pictures of the accident scene, your clothes, and any bruises that you might have received as soon as you get up if you are able to do so. The condition of ice and snow can change within minutes. Ice can melt, or it can be cleared away. It can be difficult to impossible to win an ice and snow case without pictures showing the ice and snow as it was at the moment of your injury. Of course, it's not exactly polite to start taking pictures and gathering evidence for a slip and fall claim when you're a guest in someone else’s home, but it's important to make sure your legal options are preserved. Learn more about proving fault in a slip and fall case and when to talk to a lawyer after a slip and fall.