Disputes with loved ones are always unpleasant, leading many of us so often to just forgive and forget. An argument over unwashed dishes or a white lie simply isn’t worth the anguish of a family feud or falling out with a good friend. But there comes a point where burying the hatchet is no longer feasible. A slip and fall accident is one such example.
When a friend or family member’s carelessness causes you to suffer injuries from a slip and fall accident, the stakes are raised. No amount of apologies will ease your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. Under these circumstances, pursuing legal action becomes necessary. With the help of a qualified personal injury attorney, you can achieve the compensation you justly deserve while avoiding much of the discomfort that comes with filing a claim against a friend or loved one.
When You Might Sue a Friend or Family Member for a Slip and Fall Accident
A “slip and fall accident” is when someone unintentionally slips or trips as a result of a hazardous condition, causing them to fall and become injured. Slip and fall accidents involving friends and family members are more common than one would expect. And they typically occur in a residential setting. Common scenarios include:
- Slipping on a friend or family member’s icy sidewalk, driveway, or steps
- Falling as a result of a hazard inside a friend or family member’s home
- Slipping on a slick surface around a friend or family member’s swimming pool
The Dangers of Slip and Fall Accidents
When one has been injured in a slip and fall accident involving a friend or family member, they are often hesitant to pursue legal action because of the awkwardness involved in suing a loved one. But the grave dangers posed by slip and fall accidents make recovering compensation absolutely necessary. Possible injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Spinal cord injury
- Hip fracture
- Back injury
- Cuts and abrasions
- Broken bones
- Sprained ankle or wrist
- Neck injury
- Shoulder injury
A severe injury most often comes with high costs, such as medical bills and lost wages. These injuries may also be life-altering, impacting one’s quality of life in countless ways.
Options for Compensation
There are two main avenues to compensation in a New Jersey personal injury case:
- Making an insurance claim and settling pre-suit
- Filing a lawsuit and then reaching a settlement or verdict
Let’s explore each in greater detail.
Making an Insurance Claim
The vast majority of slip and fall accidents involving a friend or family member occur in and around the friend’s or family member’s home. If your accident falls into this category, you may be able to recover under that party’s homeowner’s insurance policy. Homeowner’s insurance policies cover most types of accidents. If the friend or family member has a homeowner’s insurance policy that covers the type of accident you suffered, your first option for compensation will be to make an insurance claim under that policy. When you make an insurance claim, you notify the insurance company of three things:
- An accident occurred on their policyholder’s premises.
- You are accusing their policyholder of being at-fault for the accident.
- The insurance company is responsible for compensating you for your losses.
The insurance company then evaluates your claim. This is done by a claims adjuster. A claims adjuster is an employee of the insurance company whose job it is to investigate your claim and decide whether the insurance company is responsible for paying you. The insurance claim route has clear advantages and disadvantages. Many people prefer making an insurance claim to filing a lawsuit because it is typically much simpler. The insurance claims process is handled almost exclusively by the adjuster, leaving the injured person with little responsibility. But this isn’t necessarily a good thing.
The major downside to the insurance claims process is that there is built-in bias against the injured person filing the claim. The claims adjuster is an employee of the insurance company, who will be financially responsible if your claim is successful. Insurance adjusters have an incentive to find against the person filing, or to make a low-ball offer, because it is their employer who has to pay. By comparison, imagine if in a criminal trial, the judge was an employee of the accused bank robber. The judge would have incentive to find the defendant not guilty. The insurance process’s conflict of interest does not mean the person filing a claim won’t end up with any money; it just means he or she should be wary of the risks and challenges involved, and likely seek legal representation.
Filing a Lawsuit
Your second option for compensation is to file a lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit involves submitting to a court of law formal legal paperwork accusing someone of being at fault for causing your accident and requesting that they be ordered to compensate you for your losses. A judge or jury then decides whether whomever you sued is liable and, if so, how much they must compensate you.
Like insurance claims, the lawsuit route has distinct benefits and drawbacks. The main benefit to filing a lawsuit is the fairness of the process, especially in comparison to the insurance claims process. Rather than having a biased claims adjuster deciding your case, the fate of your claim will be in the hands of an impartial judge or jury. Meanwhile, the principal drawback is that lawsuits are much more complicated and time-consuming than insurance claims. While an insurance claim is handled almost entirely by the claims adjuster, with a lawsuit, the burden is on the person filing to investigate and prove their claim. Plus, lawsuits involve complex procedures not well-suited to non-lawyers. Fortunately, this drawback is easily solved by enlisting the help of a qualified personal injury attorney.
Reaching a Settlement
While your case may be initiated by making an insurance claim or filing a lawsuit, the odds are that your case will end by reaching a settlement. A settlement is an agreement between the parties to a dispute to end their case early by coming to an agreement. Traditionally, the accused party agrees to compensate the claimant, who in exchange agrees to forever drop the claim.
A settlement is to your advantage when you are able to negotiate a fair amount. This is because a settlement is your most efficient and certain option. Instead of enduring a long and potentially unfair insurance claims process or a lengthy and complicated lawsuit, both of which could end with you receiving nothing for your trouble, a settlement allows you to ensure you are compensated without too much fuss. However, it’s worth noting that though the outcome of a settlement is your simplest option, the process of reaching a fair settlement presents its own challenges. You will need a personal injury attorney to help you secure a fair settlement amount.
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Liability Rules: Negligence and Premises Liability
When it comes to taking legal action against a loved one, a common question is whether the legal rules in effect are any different than what would apply when suing a stranger. The simple answer is that for the most part, the law does not set out special rules and procedures for when one tries to recover compensation from a friend or family member. Your case will be decided by the same liability rules as any other slip and fall case. Those rules are negligence and premises liability.
The liability rule most relevant to your case is actually premises liability. But to understand premises liability, we must first understand the concept of negligence. What is negligence? Basically, negligence is essentially “carelessness.” Let’s take a step back and think about the purpose of the rule of law.
A major function of the law is to help keep society in order. Carelessness is a huge threat to this order. If people were allowed to be careless without any consequences, mayhem would ensue. For example, say the person in the apartment above you leaves a candle burning at night, and your whole building burns down. Their carelessness will have caused significant harm. Without consequences for this careless candle-burner, he and others may have no extra incentive to be careful.
The law’s solution to this problem is the concept of negligence. It basically holds that we all owe to each other certain duties to be careful, known as “duties of care.” When we are instead careless and our carelessness causes someone else to be injured, we can be held responsible by being forced to compensate the injured party for their losses. In more formal terms, the elements of negligence, then, are:
- Duty of care: The law’s expectation that we be careful in some way.
- Breach: That one was not careful.
- Injury: That someone was injured.
- Causation: That one’s carelessness caused this someone’s injuries.
Premises liability is a specific type of negligence. Remember that negligence is all about the duties we owe to one another and someone violating one of those duties. Premises liability deals with the duty landowners owe to people they invite onto their property. This liability rule is most relevant to cases concerning slip and fall accidents involving a friend or family member because they most commonly occur when the friend or family member has invited people onto their property, usually their home.
We use the term “landowner” here loosely. What we really mean is the person who is responsible for the property where you were injured, usually the friend or family member hosting you. Your friend or family member might rent rather than own their place of residence, meaning they aren’t the owners of their land. Regardless, the rules applicable to “landowners” in this section will apply to them.
Generally, a landowner’s duty is to protect guests from being injured by dangerous conditions on the property. So, for example, a store owner might have a duty to do something like putting up a wet floor sign after mopping to warn unsuspecting shoppers. But the duty owed by a landowner changes depending on the legal status of their guest.
In most slip and fall accidents involving friends or family members, the injured party will be considered a “social guest.” The landowner’s duty to a social guest is to correct or warn of dangerous conditions that the landowner has actual knowledge of and that the guest is unaware of. That’s a mouthful. Let’s break it down into more digestible pieces. The precise liability rule is that the landowner can be held liable if:
- the landowner fails to correct or warn of a dangerous condition, and
- they had actual knowledge of that condition, and
- their guest was unaware of that condition, and
- their guest is caused to be injured.
Limits on a Landowner’s Duty
The landowner’s duty to a social guest is often called a limited duty because it is limited by two significant factors: that the landowner actually knew of the condition and that the guest was unaware of the condition.
1. The landowner must have actually known the dangerous condition existed.
The law holds that landowners are not responsible for providing greater safety to their guest than what the landowner would provide themself. So, social guests are entitled only to whatever knowledge their host has about hazardous conditions on the property. This knowledge will include only dangerous conditions that the landowner actually knows to exist on the property. Otherwise, the landowner is not required to inspect their property to discover dangerous conditions or potentially dangerous conditions.
2. The guest must have been unaware of the dangerous condition.
The law also places a duty on social guests to exercise reasonable care. In determining whether a landowner is liable, a claims adjuster or court will ask whether the injured guest knew about the dangerous condition or should have become aware of it by a “reasonable use of their faculties.” If either is true, the landowner will NOT be held liable.
What Is a Dangerous Condition?
As we’ve said, under premises liability, the landowner only needs to warn their social guests of dangerous conditions on their property that they actually know of. This rule leads to an interesting question: what is a dangerous condition? More specifically, is a condition only dangerous when the landowner thinks so? Imagine you go to a friend’s house, and you slip on the kitchen tile. You sue them, and in court, your friend says “but your honor, I didn’t warn them (you) about the kitchen floor because it isn’t dangerous; I never slip in the kitchen, even when it has just been mopped without me knowing.” Would this be okay? To be fair, the landowner didn’t think the kitchen floor being slick was a dangerous condition. Thankfully, things don’t quite work this way. The answer to our question can be found in the New Jersey case Parks v. Rogers. The court, citing another case, said:
“The landowner is not the measure of whether a known condition of the property is dangerous. The inquiry is an objective one, whether the landowner should realize the condition posed an unreasonable risk of harm.”
A final liability rule to be aware of is “comparative fault,” also sometimes called “comparative negligence.” Comparative fault is the law’s way of recognizing that fault is rarely absolute. It permits claims adjusters and courts to consider the injured claimant’s role in causing their accident and factor this into the amount of compensation they receive, if any.
For example, suppose you slip and fall on a wet floor in your friend’s kitchen. A claims adjuster or court determines your friend is liable for your injuries because they knew about the slippery floor, you didn’t know about it, and they failed to correct it or warn you of it. That claims adjuster or court could then consider your role in causing the accident. Suppose you were carelessly running in the kitchen while wearing extra slippery socks. It might be determined that you were also negligent. The adjuster or court would then assign you a percentage of blame. Say the percentage is 20%. Your damages, the amount of compensation you are awarded, will then be reduced by this amount.
Different states have slightly different comparative fault rules. This is mainly relevant to the question of what happens when the injured claimant is actually more to blame than whomever they accuse. New Jersey follows a “modified comparative fault” model. This means you can only recover compensation if the other party is more than 50% to blame for your accident.
Liability Rules in Action
The relevant liability rules are well illustrated by the real-life case of Andiorio v. Andiorio. When Mrs. Andiorio entered her son’s house to pick up her grandchildren to take them to the zoo, she never imagined she would leave with injuries and a reason to sue. While the grandchildren waited in the car with her husband, Andiorio set out to refill the dog’s water bowl before joining them. While walking the water bowl across the house, she suddenly tripped over a vacuum cleaner that had been left in the doorway of the laundry room. Having injured herself, Andiorio decided to sue her son for the value of her injuries. But she recovered no compensation, as the court sided with her son. Applying the premises liability rules discussed in this section, the court concluded Mrs. Andiorio’s son was not liable. They relied on the two limitations on a landowner’s duty to their social guest.
1. Did Mrs. Andiorio’s son have actual knowledge of the dangerous condition?
He did not. It was established at trial that he was not home at the time of his mother’s accident, and he did not know that someone had left the vacuum cleaner near the laundry room doorway.
2. Was Mrs. Andiorio aware of the dangerous condition or should she have been aware of it?
She was not aware of it, but she should have been. The court didn’t need to answer this question because it was already established that the son didn’t have actual knowledge of the dangerous condition. But they addressed it anyway to make the point that even if they were wrong about the first question, the son was not liable because of this second question. The court concluded the grandmother should have become aware of the vacuum cleaner with a reasonable use of her faculties. The vacuum cleaner was obvious and out in the open. Andiorio claimed she didn’t see the vacuum because all her attention was on the dog bowl she was carrying. But the court pointed out this was careless, and she should have been looking where she was going.
To be held liable, Mrs. Andiorio’s son would have to have had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition, and Mrs. Andiorio would have to have been unaware of the dangerous condition. Since neither was true, the son was found not liable, and Mrs. Andiorio was unable to recover compensation for her injuries. While this case ended without recovery, we should point out that plenty of these claims end with the injured person receiving considerable compensation.
How Do You Prove Fault?
When deciding whether to pursue legal action, injured claimants frequently wonder how they could possibly prove their claim. To prove a personal injury claim, you need to prove the elements of your legal cause of action. For slip and fall accidents occurring at a friend or family member’s residence, your cause of action is negligence and, more specifically, premises liability. For your claim to be successful, you will need to prove each of the following elements:
- Your injuries were caused by a dangerous condition on the property.
- Your friend or family member knew about the dangerous condition beforehand.
- You didn’t know about the dangerous condition and should not have become aware of it by a reasonable use of your faculties.
- Your friend or family member failed to warn you of the dangerous condition and failed to correct it.
To prove these elements, you will need convincing evidence persuasively presented to the court. Admittedly, gathering evidence in these cases is slightly more difficult than, say, a case involving a slip and fall accident at a store. This is because, unlike professional properties, residences do not commonly have video surveillance cameras throughout the property or regular written maintenance records. But an experienced personal injury attorney will have plenty of good ideas as to how to work around this.
In these cases we commonly rely on evidence like limited home security footage, such as a Ring camera, deposition testimony, and expert witness testimony. Deposition testimony is especially helpful. A “deposition” is an out-of-court statement made by relevant witnesses, including the person you are suing themself. In a deposition, your attorney can ask questions to reveal things like the other party’s level of knowledge of the dangerous condition before your accident. With the right testimony, most of the elements can be established somewhat convincingly. Finally, once you’ve gathered all the right evidence, your attorney will need to craft a convincing legal argument connecting that evidence to the legal elements of your claim.
Will You Need an Attorney?
Whatever path to compensation you choose, you will face a variety of unique obstacles that can only be overcome with the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney. Investigating the circumstances of your accident, building a strong legal claim for compensation, and navigating the complicated legal processes standing between you and just compensation all call for an attorney’s resources and expertise. An attorney can offer you legal knowledge, practical legal experience, resources, and much more.
Crucially, suing a friend or family member presents additional practical challenges making an attorney all the more necessary. Up to this point, we have suggested there are no major legal differences between filing a personal injury claim against a friend or family member and filing one against a stranger. And while this is generally true, there are still practical differences.
It’s no secret that a legal dispute with a friend or loved one is a delicate situation that is bound to carry some awkwardness. There are necessary aspects of the process that become far more awkward when a friend or family member is involved. To name just a few obstacles:
Notifying them that you are suing them:
When you file a lawsuit, you are responsible for formally notifying whomever you are suing so they have an opportunity to defend themselves. This can be uncomfortable when you know your adversary personally.
Reaching out for information:
When investigating your claim, it helps to be able to contact the other party for informational purposes. This can become awkward and even difficult if you are dealing with a friend or family member who may be upset that you are suing them.
Most slip and falls involving a friend or family member occur at the loved one’s residence. To gather evidence from the scene of the accident, you may need to return to that residence, which is obviously uncomfortable when you are engaged in a legal battle.
Engaging in settlement negotiations:
An ideal outcome for your case is to reach a fair settlement agreement. To do this, you will need to negotiate with whomever you are suing. Entering a negotiation with a friend or family member who may feel scorned can be a tricky task. They might be unwilling to negotiate or unpleasant to negotiate with. Or even worse, they might manipulate you into accepting a low-ball offer by leveraging your personal relationship with them.
Pressure to drop the suit or go easy:
A major risk when taking legal action against a loved one is that your personal relationship with this person becomes a tool in their arsenal. If you are dealing directly with your adversary, they may use their personal relationship with you to pressure you to drop the lawsuit altogether or at least go easy on them.
Now, we’re sure these obstacles might make you think twice about pursuing your claim. But we must stress two things. First, your claim is important. You shouldn’t go without the compensation you need and deserve just because a loved one is responsible. Second, these obstacles are not insurmountable.
Each of these challenges can be made easier by hiring a personal injury attorney. When you hire an attorney, you gain a human buffer between you and the friend or family member you are suing. This doesn’t mean you are cutting off a relationship with this person. It just means anything related to your case will go through your attorney, saving you from potentially awkward or otherwise unpleasant encounters. Having an attorney keeps things strictly professional, allowing you to pursue your claim as you would if you were suing a stranger. Beyond being a buffer, your attorney can also use their conflict resolution skills to give you the best chance of reaching an amicable resolution. In our experience, hiring an attorney for these matters gives you the best shot at securing fair compensation without destroying the relationship in the process.
How Common Are Slip and Fall Cases Involving Friends or Family Members?
It’s difficult to know exactly how common slip and fall lawsuits involving friends or family members are, mainly because someone has yet to figure out and publish this statistic. However, we can confidently say that in our experience, these types of cases are certainly not uncommon. And this makes sense. Hazardous conditions are present all throughout a residence’s interior and exterior, and they certainly don’t disappear simply because the people involved have a personal relationship.
Of course, suing a loved one can be complicated in a personal sense, so these cases aren’t generally very common. They seem to sit somewhere in the middle of the very common and the unheard of. That said, personal injury cases more broadly are brought quite frequently. In one study, the Bureau of Justice Statistics found that in a one-year period, U.S. state courts saw an estimated 378,000 tort cases, 92% of which were personal injury cases.
Frequently Asked Questions
This will depend on a variety of factors, including the strength of your claim, the extent of your damages (your losses caused by your injuries), and your willingness to accept some of the potential downfalls of taking legal action against a loved one. You should gather all the relevant information before reaching a decision, which includes consulting with a personal injury attorney.
In general, if you slip and fall while inside a friend or family member’s apartment, the premises liability rules discussed in this article will be in effect. However, the rules change slightly if you slip and fall on the premises of the apartment complex but not inside the apartment itself. In Gonzalez v. Safe & Sound Sec. Corp. the court held “in the common areas of an apartment complex, tenants and their social guests are deemed to be business visitors of the landlord.” Since you’re no longer considered a “social guest,” the liability rules in effect will change slightly, which may mean you don’t need to sue your friend or family member after all. Nevertheless, you should contact an experienced personal injury attorney to discuss your claim.
Slip and fall accidents can occur due to a wet surface around a swimming pool; these are especially dangerous because they can lead to nasty injuries and even drowning or near-drowning. Liability will depend on the circumstances. If you are a social guest at a friend’s or family member’s private pool, then your friend or family member may be liable under the premises liability rules discussed in this article. Notably, in most of these cases, the wet surface condition will be “open and obvious,” making it harder to prove liability. If you are at a private pool, such as a pool at a friend’s or family member’s apartment complex, it may be the landlord or apartment company who is liable for your injuries.
The same premises liability rules discussed in this article will be in effect. To hold your friend or family member liable, it would have to be true that they actually knew their driveway was icy and that you did not know, and had no reason to know, it was icy. The good news is that if there is bad weather, the landowner will usually know their driveway is wet and icy. The challenge in these cases tends to be that the icy conditions are often clear and obvious to the person that slipped. Remember that to hold your friend or family member liable, it must be true that they had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition and that you had no knowledge of the condition. It is possible to win these cases, but you will need a skilled personal injury attorney.
When an accident results in death, the proper legal cause of action is a wrongful death lawsuit. Compared with a personal injury case, the liability rules concerning fault are generally the same, but the procedures are slightly different. The deceased person’s estate will sue on the deceased person’s behalf, and if the lawsuit is successful, the damages will be distributed among the eligible surviving family members. These cases have an extra layer of complexity, so as always, you should have an attorney review the facts of your case.
Yes, it is possible, though the scenarios are unlikely. Perhaps the friend or family member was responsible for the premises where you fell but the premises were not their residence. Or maybe the friend or family member caused you to fall intentionally. Outside of the friend’s or family member’s residence, things become more uncertain. The liability rules can differ significantly depending on the circumstances. You should discuss your case with a personal injury attorney so they can determine exactly who can be held responsible for your injuries.
There are two types of compensation you can recover. You can be covered for tangible expenses, like medical bills and lost wages. You can also get compensation for more abstract, less quantifiable damages. A common example for this type of compensation is captured by the phrase, “pain and suffering.”
Who Should You Contact?
Taking legal action against a friend or loved one is never an easy decision. But when your only alternative is to suffer under the weight of unpaid medical bills, lost wages, and life-altering injuries, your well-being may require it. When you’re ready to take the first step on the road to justice, look no further than Rosenblum Law. Our reputation as a premier personal injury law firm has been earned through decades of experience successfully advocating for our injured clients. We have the resources, dedication, and professionalism to steer your claim to a successful conclusion. So, although disputes with people close to us are always difficult, taking legal action doesn’t have to be. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.