Many people in the greater Seattle are injured every year slipping and falling on someone else's property. But, this does not automatically mean the property owners are responsible for the injuries. Substances and things fall or drip on the floor ground all the time, and it is normal for the ground and sidewalks to be uneven.
A property owner cannot be held responsible for immediately picking up or cleaning every slippery substance on a floor. Nor is a property owner always responsible for someone slipping or tripping on something that an ordinary person would have seen and avoided. We all have to watch where we are walking.
But, property owners who invite or allow people on to their properties do need to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition. Slip and fall cases hinge on whether property owners acted reasonably and with care to prevent people from falling on their properties, and whether you were careless in not watching where you're walking.
The following are some general rules to give you an overview of how slip and fall cases work:
Determining Liability: For a property owner to be legally responsible for the injuries you suffered from slipping and falling on someone else's property, one of the following must be true:
- The owner of the premises or an employee must have caused the spill or dangerous item to be on the ground.
- The owner of the premises or an employee must have known of the dangerous surface but done nothing about it.
- The owner of the premises should have known of the dangerous surface because a “reasonable” person taking care of the property would have discovered and removed it.
What Is Reasonable?: Any negligence claim hinges on whether the defendant acted reasonably. In determining a property owner's “reasonableness,” the law concentrates on whether the owner makes regular and thorough efforts to keep the property safe and clean. Here are some initial questions you can ask to determine whether a property or business owner may be liable for your slip or trip and fall injuries:
- If you tripped over something on the ground, or slipped on a wet or loose area, had the dangerous spot been there long enough that the owner should have known about it?
- Did the property owner have a regular procedure for examining the floors of the premises? If so, can the owner prove it?
- If you tripped over or slipped on an object someone other than the owner had put on the ground, was there a legitimate reason for the object to be there?
- Could a barrier have been created or a warning been given to prevent people from slipping or tripping?
- Did poor lighting contribute to the accident?
If the answers to one or more of these questions are yes, you may have a good case. But, you must still think about whether your own carelessness contributed to your accident.
Your Own Carelessness: In almost every slip and fall case, you must decide whether your carelessness contributed to the accident. The rules of “comparative negligence” help measure your own reasonableness in whether you should have seen where you were walking right before the accident. The following are some questions you should ask yourself about your own conduct:
- Did you have a legitimate reason for being where the dangerous area was?
- Would a careful person have noticed the dangerous spot and avoided it, or walked carefully enough not to slip or trip?
- Were there any warnings that the spot might be dangerous?
- Were you doing anything that distracted you from paying attention to where you were going, or were you walking in a way that made falling more likely?
You don't have to prove you were careful, but thinking about what you were doing right before the accident will help you with your case as you go through with it.