LEGAL GUIDE TO WHAT YOU HAVE TO PROVE TO SUCCEED IN A SLIP-AND-FALL CASE
Key elements of a slip-and-fall case: 1 - Duty on the Part of the Defendant; 2 - Dangerous Condition; 3 - Notice; 4 - Breach; 5 - Causation; 6 - Damages.
DUTYWhen dealing with negligence in personal injury law, a duty of care is a legal obligation, which is imposed on an individual requiring adherence to a standard of reasonable care while performing any acts that could foreseeably harm others.
Duty basically means that the owner or someone in legal control of the property has a responsibility to maintain the premises and take care of any conditions that may cause harm, all within reasonable means. The key question here is whether the owner or occupier had or should have had control of the premises where the accident occurred. Without proving defendant's owed duty, the plaintiff cannot win the case.
DANGEROUS CONDITIONIt may seem obvious to the injured individual that a dangerous condition existed at the time of the accident; however it still has to be proven. The plaintiff (injured person) must show that the defendant knew or should have known about the existing dangerous condition on the premises. The defendant could and should have taken care of this dangerous condition but didn't - thus creating an unreasonable hazard which ultimately caused the injury.
One other important fact must be proven in conjunction: that the premises were used as intended (in a manner that is typically expected.) A dangerous condition must be proven to be significantly different from a minor defect such as normal wear and tear that typically creates no potential for harm.
NOTICENotice is one of the most important issues that must be established in a slip and fall case. The case may need an experts to testify to the typical industry practices regarding maintenance, inspection and hazard prevention procedures. If the defendant is shown to have deviated from the industry practices, it may be possible to prove improper premises management resulting in a dangerous condition.
In a case where the defendant knew about the hazard, but chose to ignore or didn't act in time to remove it, actual notice is established. This is not a likely scenario as most people do not intend to do harm to others, and are fully aware of the possible risks of leaving hazardous conditions in the open.
A more likely scenario is where the defendant claims to have had no knowledge of the hazard, but proven otherwise by the plaintiff's side. If the plaintiff's attorney can prove that the defendant failed to properly inspect the premises (for whatever reason), deviating for the standard procedures accepted by the industry, then constructive notice is established. In places like supermarkets it is common sense that liquids may be spilled during normal hours of operations, and that someone should periodically check to see if an unreported spill has occurred. Failing to conduct a regular inspection does not excuse the defendant's claim to lack of knowledge about the existing hazard.
BREACHA breach of duty occurs when a property owner or occupier has a duty of care toward other persons on the premises, but fails to live up to that standard. Breach occurs where there was a foreseeable risk of harm or an unreasonable conduct took place in light of the foreseeable risks. In a slip-and-fall case a property owner or occupier may be liable for negligence if their breach of duty caused another person's injuries.
CAUSATIONTo develop causation, a plaintiff must apply a "but for test," meaning that but for the action/inaction of the defendant the harm would not have occurred. In California, many defendants pursue a defense of comparative negligence in slip-and-fall cases, claiming that the plaintiff himself/herself was negligent in causing the accident. Through evidence applicable to the case (like eyewitness, expert testimony and circumstantial evidence) plaintiff's attorney should prove that a negligent conduct of the property owner or occupier was a substantial factor in contributing to the plaintiff's injuries.
DAMAGESMany people don't report the accident until later on when the injuries make themselves obvious. However, simply claiming that the injuries suffered are a direct result of the accident is not that easy. There must be sufficient proof that the dangerous condition could be responsible for diagnosed injuries (in other words, the mechanics of the fall and landing are consistent with the injuries being contested.) The defense may lead the jury to believe that the injury is not a result of the accident, and must be proven otherwise for successful premises liability litigation.
If you've tripped, slipped and fallen on someone's premises and have experienced measurable pain, it is best to document conditions as best as possible and seek treatment right away. You are better off being prepared for the worst (in an event that your injury leads to mounting medical bills, missing work time and worse), than to take it easy and brush it off as if nothing happened.