Every day, we trust that property owners have ensured that the property they own is safe for visitors. Unfortunately, thousands of Californians are injured every year when they slip and fall on someone else’s property, often due to the property owner’s negligence. In many cases, these injured victims are entitled to damages.
These types of claims are called premises liability claims.
The Duties of Property Owners
In California, property owners have a duty to keep their property free of dangerous conditions. If there is a dangerous condition, and it cannot be remedied in a timely manner, property owners must warn visitors of the hazard. Failure to do so is considered a breach of the property owners’ duty to warn.
What constitutes a dangerous condition? Consider a store that has a set of brick steps leading to its front door. One of the bricks has become loose and has cracked into a couple of pieces. Although the property owner knows about the brick, the property owner lets several weeks go by without repairing it.
One day, a customer trips over the brick, falls, and breaks her ankle. In this case, the customer would likely be entitled to damages because the property owner knew about the dangerous condition and did not repair it or warn visitors about it.
Spills are another example of a dangerous condition. However, whether slip and fall victims will be compensated for their injuries depends on the nature of the spill. For example, if a customer slipped on spilled juice that had been ignored by grocery store employees for an hour, the customer would likely receive damages.
If the spill had just occurred in the past few minutes, and store employees had not had a chance to notice the spill, obtaining damages may be more difficult.
Slip and fall victims must show that their injuries were caused by the property owner’s negligence and were not caused by a preexisting condition. Of course, a preexisting condition may have been exacerbated by the slip and fall, which would be a valid claim for damages.
A slip and fall victim’s damages may include:
- Medical expenses, including the cost of future medical care that may be needed
- Lost wages, if the slip and fall victim was forced to miss work to recover
- Loss of earning capacity, if the victim is no longer able to work in the same role
- Loss of employment benefits, such as health insurance, if the victim is no longer able to work
- Pain and suffering, which compensates a victim for the physical discomfort he or she experienced after a slip and fall
- Emotional distress, such as depression, anxiety, or other psychological conditions that were triggered by the slip and fall
Other types of damages may also be available, depending on the circumstances of the case. Your San Rafael personal injury attorney will help you recover all of the damages you are entitled to under the law.
Defenses to Slip and Fall Claims
Property owners often try to avoid liability for slip and fall claims, even when they are truly at fault.
Property owners may try to argue that the accident victim was careless, for example. They may argue that the victim tripped and fell because he or she was looking down at a cell phone or was otherwise not paying attention.
In addition, only individuals who are lawfully on someone else’s property may be able to file a slip and fall claim against the property owner. Trespassers are generally not able to file premises liability claims.
Entering property that has “No Trespassing” signs or returning to a property after an individual was asked to leave are examples of trespassing. Even entering an area labeled “Employees Only” could be enough to disqualify an individual from filing a slip and fall claim, even if the individual had permission to be elsewhere on the property.
What Do I Need to Prove in a Slip and Fall Case?
Slip and fall cases are a type of personal injury claim known as premises liability cases. To win this type of lawsuit, you will need to prove:
- The other party (defendant) owned, leased, occupied, or controlled the property;
- The defendant was negligent in using or maintaining the property;
- You (plaintiff) were harmed by slipping and falling on their property; and
- The defendant’s negligence was a substantial factor in causing your injuries.
Negligence is a legal concept that means that someone failed to act as a reasonable person would in a similar situation. In slip and fall cases, you can prove negligence by showing:
- There was a condition on the defendant’s property that created an unreasonable risk of harm;
- The defendant knew or should have known about the hazard with the exercise of reasonable care; and
- The defendant failed to repair the hazard, protect people from getting hurt by it, or to give adequate warning about it.
For example, a bottle of cooking oil was dropped at a grocery store, creating an incredibly slippery surface. A customer told the manager about the spill. The manager was busy at the time, so they didn’t make sure that it was cleaned up, close off the aisle, or put up a warning sign to let shoppers know that there was a spill. If someone slips and falls because of this spill, the grocery store could be responsible for any losses that they suffered.
I Fell at My Friend’s House, and I Don’t Want to Sue Them. What Should I Do?
Slip and fall accidents can happen anywhere — including at a loved one’s house. It is understandable that you don’t want to file a lawsuit against a friend. Yet at the same time, you may be struggling to pay your medical bills, especially if you have to miss work to recover from your injuries.
Fortunately, you don’t have to sue your friend to get compensation for your injuries. In fact, you won’t be filing a lawsuit against them. Any claim that you make will be against their insurance company.
We carry homeowner and renter’s insurance for a reason: to protect us in case something happens like someone falling and getting hurt on your property. Your friend has been paying insurance premiums exactly for a situation like this. While you may feel awkward about the situation, remember that it won’t be your friend who pays your medical expenses, lost wages, or pain and suffering — it’ll be their insurance company.
I Fell on a Broken Piece of a Sidewalk That Is Owned By My Down. Can I Sue the City?
Yes. Just like other property owners, the state, counties, and cities and towns have a responsibility to take care of their property. If they failed to maintain the sidewalk properly, you could file a lawsuit against the city.
However, these types of claims are a bit different than other types of personal injury cases. The government has immunity from many types of lawsuits, with exceptions for things like slip and falls and other types of personal injury claims. If you can show that the government agency had notice the dangerous broken sidewalk and failed to fix it, then you can file a claim against the city.
There is a specific procedure for filing these claims. Unlike other slip and fall cases, you will need to file a notice of claim within 6 months of the accident, as compared to the 2-year statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits against non-government entities. The city may accept or reject your claim. If your claim is rejected, a San Rafael slip and fall lawyer can help you file a lawsuit against the city.