Who’s Responsible in a Slip and Fall Accident?
It’s quite certain that you’ve either seen someone injured, or you yourself have been injured, due to a slip and fall accident. These accidents injure thousands of people every year. The question begs: “who is actually responsible for these injuries?” Can the owner of the property on which the slip and fall took place be held accountable? Or, does the injured party get blamed for not exercising greater care? The quick answer is that it all depends on the circumstances. Let’s examine this more closely.
The General Rule
Most slip and fall accidents take place on property owned by a specific business. For example, a shopper might slip and fall at a grocery store, a clothing store, or even an airport. These properties are business properties and Washington law imposes on business owners a duty of ordinary care to their invitees. Great, but what does this mean?
Well, let’s assume Peter slips and falls on a piece of wet tile while shopping at a grocery store. After sustaining injuries from the fall, Peter hopes to file a lawsuit against the owner of the grocery store to recover damages from his accident. In Washington, the general rule governing liability in these types of cases states that Peter must prove two elements to be successful in filing a suit. First, Peter must show that an unsafe condition existed on the business premises. Second, Peter must prove that either: (1) this unsafe condition was caused by the business owner (or its employees); or, (2) the owner had knowledge of the unsafe condition and failed to correct it. Let’s help clarify matters by looking at this second element in more detail.
Unsafe Condition Caused By Business Owner
As stated above, a business owner can be held liable if the owner (or, the owner’s employees) caused an unsafe condition. Liability can also be imposed if the owner, or an employee, tried to correct an unsafe condition, but did so in a negligent manner. Unfortunately, there is not a hard and fast way to determine if an owner created an unsafe condition; or, if an employee was negligent in trying to correct an unsafe condition. The specific facts of a case will typically determine whether or not either one of these conditions was met.
Knowledge of Unsafe Condition With No Action
Again, according to our general rule above, a business owner can be held liable for a slip and fall accident if a person can prove that the owner knew of an unsafe condition but failed to correct it. Proving that a business owner knew of an unsafe condition can take two forms. First, an injured party can try to show that a business owner had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition. Second, an injured party can try to show that a business owner had “constructive notice” of an unsafe condition. Constructive notice basically means that an unsafe condition had existed for such a period of time that a business owner should have discovered it, and remedied it, by making a proper inspection of the premises.
As with determining if an owner created an unsafe condition, there is no hard and fast rule to determine if a business owner had actual or constructive notice of an unsafe condition. Again, this issue is typically resolved by the specific facts of a given case. Upon an analysis of these facts, a judge or jury is left with the task of deciding whether a business owner should have known, and remedied, an unsafe condition.
Carelessness of an Injured Party
Some slip and fall accidents are due to a level of carelessness by an injured party. For instance, in our example with Peter, maybe he did fall while shopping because of a liquid on the store’s tile floor. However, it may be the case that he was partly to blame for the slip because he should have exercised greater care while walking, or at least observing his surroundings.
In this instance, the law states that Peter is “comparatively negligent” for his accident. This essentially means he is partly to blame for any injuries he sustained. When a party is comparatively negligent, and if a damage award is provided to the injured party, the total amount of this award can get reduced because of the party’s own carelessness.
We’re Here to Help
If you haven’t guessed by now, it can be difficult to successfully prove that a business owner should be held liable for slip and fall injuries. The law in this area is a little complex, exceptions to rules apply, and specific facts will ultimately determine if liability should be imposed. The attorneys at the Phillips Law Firm have successfully represented numerous clients that have suffered injuries from slip and fall accidents. These attorneys are ready to assist you in this area of the law today! Simply contact them and let them get you the justice you deserve.