Chances are, you’ve slipped and fallen and hurt yourself at one point or another. Slips and falls serious business. They are the leading cause of emergency room visits in the United States, accounting for 20% of all ER visits. They are also the leading cause of worker’s compensation claims. Each year, one out of every three people over the age of 65 will experience a fall, making slip and falls particularly dangerous for the elderly.
So what makes falls so dangerous? Depending on your age and physical health, falls can cause a number of issues, from scrapes and bruises to more serious injuries like broken bones, fractures, and head trauma. While doctors and hospitals can provide a remedy for the physical symptoms of a fall, the law also provides a remedy. If you slip and fall and are injured due to another person’s negligence, you may be entitled to recover damages.
Let’s start with a hypothetical slip and fall to illustrate how a slip and fall case works. Let’s say that you pull up to your favorite shopping center to pop in and buy a few things. You go into a store and, as you are shopping, you decide to take a break and head to the restroom. While you’re walking to the restroom, your foot suddenly comes out from under you and you fall, fracturing your tailbone. It turns out that what caused your slip and fall was a pool of water on the floor that had come out of a nearby water fountain. Upon further investigation, it appears that this water fountain had been leaking for several days. The manager of the store was aware of the leak and that it was causing water to pool on the floor, but had not gotten around to having it fixed and had not installed a caution sign. Because of your fractured tailbone, you incurred several thousand dollars’ worth of medical bills and were forced to take a week off work to recuperate.
Do you have any recourse against the store? The answer in this situation is yes.
Slip and fall accidents are commonly the result of negligence, which requires a showing of four legal elements: duty, breach, causation, and damages.
Let’s take a look at each of these elements in light of your hypothetical case above to see if (and how much) you can recover.
Duty: A person who is invited to enter onto the premises of another person for a purpose that is connected with the business dealings of the owner of the property is known as an “invitee.” For invitees, the property owner must correct and warn of any dangerous conditions that the owner knows about but the visitor does not know about (or cannot discover through the use of reasonable care). A “dangerous condition” is one that must present an unreasonable risk to a person on the property, and it must have been a condition that the injured party would not have anticipated under the circumstances. So, in order to recover, you would have to show that the accident was caused by a dangerous condition on the property that the owner knew about that you did not know about. That would be very easy to show here since the water on the floor was a dangerous condition that the manager of the store had known about for several days, but of which you were unaware.
Breach: When dealing with dangerous conditions on real property, an owner’s breach can be shown through one of three ways: (1) The owner created the dangerous condition, (2) the owner knew the condition existed and negligently failed to correct it, or (3) the condition existed for such a length of time that the owner should have discovered and corrected it prior to the incident in question. In this case, the manager knew that water was pooling on the floor near the bathrooms but did nothing to fix it, nor did he take any steps to warn the store’s customers of the dangers. Therefore, it would be fairly simple to show that the owner breached his duty here.
Causation: Causation is also fairly easy to show here. The pool of water on the floor was the actual and proximate cause of your slip and subsequent fall—if there had been no water on the floor, you would not have slipped and fallen in that particular spot.
Damages: “Damages” in legal language refers to the monetary value of the injury you sustained. Because you incurred medical bills and were forced to take a week off of work, the money you paid for your treatment and the money you lost by not working are your damages.
The goal of awarding damages in a personal injury suit is to make the plaintiff whole—that is, to put him or her in the same position he or she would have been in had the accident not occurred. Thus, the damages a court will award in a personal injury action are known as compensatory damages. Courts also have the authority to award punitive damages, but punitive damages are appropriate only where the conduct of the defendant has been especially malicious or intentional. Thus, they are not appropriate in tort actions based on negligence.
Some examples of compensatory damages in a slip and fall action include:
Because these damages are compensatory, the actual dollar amount you could receive in a slip and fall action depends upon how seriously you were injured in the fall—the more severe your injury, the higher your damages award. Owners and occupiers of real property owe visitors the duty to ensure that they are safe from harm and to warn them of potential dangers that are present on the property. If a dangerous condition exists on the property and the owner fails to correct it, he or she has breached this duty. If you are injured as a result of this breach and can show that your injuries were caused by the dangerous condition, you are entitled to recover damages from the owner. The amount of damages you are entitled to depend on the severity of your injuries, but, in all cases, damages in a personal injury case are designed to compensate you for your losses.
If you’ve been injured in a slip and fall accident, please contact the attorneys at the Dolman Law Group for a free consultation by calling 727-451-6900.