In the modern world, parking lots are virtually unavoidable. The office? Parking lot. Your kid’s school? Parking lot. The grocery store? Parking lot. And the list goes on. Though you might not have thought about it before now, parking lots can be quite dangerous. Hazardous conditions are more than capable of sending unsuspecting pedestrians to the unforgiving asphalt, leaving them with nasty, even life-altering injuries.
Fortunately, when the people responsible for maintaining the safety of a parking lot don’t do their job, the law provides a remedy: compensation through an insurance claim or lawsuit. In this article, we will explore how the law thinks about compensating victims in parking lot slip and fall cases and discuss what steps you can take to achieve the justice you deserve.
What Is a Slip and Fall Accident?
“Slip and fall accident”loosely describes accidents where someone encounters a hazardous condition, falls, and injures themself. A playful example is a cartoon character slipping on a banana peel. Slip and fall accidents are often called “slip, trip, and fall” accidents because people most commonly fall after slipping or tripping.
The Dangers of Parking Lot Slip and Fall Accidents
Parking lot slip and fall accidents are uniquely dangerous for three reasons. First, they can happen almost anywhere:
- Commercial parking lots
- Grocery store
- Office building
- Retail store
- Non-commercial, public parking lots
- Government building
- Public hospital
- Public park
- Public recreation center
Second, these accidents are caused by various recurring hazards. The most common scenarios are:
- Slipping after inclement weather, such as rain or snow
- Slipping on a substance, such as motor oil that leaked from a vehicle
- Tripping over foreign objects, such as large rocks or litter
Third, parking lots have hard floor surfaces, which unfortunately means their slip and fall victims are at risk of serious and painful injuries, including:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Hip fracture
- Back and spine injury
- Cuts and abrasions
- Broken bones
- Sprained ankle or wrist
- Neck injury
- Shoulder injury
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What Are Your Options for Compensation?
If you have had the misfortune of being the victim of a parking lot slip and fall accident, you may be entitled to compensation. Your options include:
- Making an insurance claim
- Filing a lawsuit
- Reaching a settlement
Making an Insurance Claim
As we will discuss in depth in a later section, the person or entity who can be held liable for your accident will most often be whoever is responsible for maintaining the safety of the parking lot where you were injured. If this person or entity owns or leases the parking lot or property abutting the parking lot, they may have liability insurance covering accidents that occur on the premises. If they are insured, your first option for compensation will be to file an insurance claim with their insurance company.
Filing a claim amounts to accusing the insurance company’s policyholder of being at-fault for causing your slip and fall accident and claiming that the insurance company is therefore responsible for compensating you for your resulting losses. These losses might include things like outstanding medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. After you file an insurance claim, the insurance company will assign a claims adjuster to your case. The adjuster will:
- investigate your claim
- determine whether the policyholder is legally responsible for having caused your accident
- decide how much the insurance company must compensate you, if their policyholder is liable
Making an insurance claim has its pros and cons. The upside is that the claims process is designed so that you are not responsible for proving your claim. The insurance adjuster takes full responsibility for investigating the case. Another benefit is that you avoid going to court, which involves a long and complicated process. The downside of the insurance option is a significant one: there is an element of unfairness inherent to the insurance claims process. The insurance adjuster, who will investigate and decide your case, works for the insurance company, who will then be responsible for paying you if the adjuster finds in your favor. This presents a questionable conflict of interest, as their employer (the insurance company) will want to pay out a little as possible.
If you decide the negatives of the claims process outweigh the positives, you can choose instead to file a lawsuit.
Filing a Lawsuit
In a civil lawsuit, one person, known as the “plaintiff,” accuses another person, the “defendant,” of committing a legal wrong against them. The plaintiff asks the court to recognize that the defendant committed this legal wrong and provide a specific solution, most commonly an order forcing the defendant to compensate the plaintiff. The court then hears both sides of the dispute and decides whether to grant the plaintiff whatever solution they are requesting.
If you choose to pursue the lawsuit option, your attorney will submit a document called a “complaint” to the court. The complaint will state that whoever you are suing is at fault for causing your slip and fall accident, and it will ask the court to order them to pay you for your losses. Your attorney will then need to prove your claim in court.
Similar to the insurance claim option, filing a lawsuit has advantages and disadvantages. A significant benefit is that the legal process is much more fair than the insurance claims process. The people deciding your case, a judge or jury, will have no personal stake in the case’s outcome.
A potential downside to filing a lawsuit is that lawsuits can be time-consuming and emotionally exhausting. Without a claims adjuster investigating your claim, you become solely responsible for investigating and presenting your case to the court. And the law’s many procedural rules can make for a long and complicated road to compensation. On a positive note, much of this stress will be insignificant to you, provided that you hire a competent personal injury attorney. Your attorney will do all the heavy lifting, allowing you to focus on recuperating from your accident injuries.
Reaching a Settlement
Your final option for compensation is to reach a settlement. Though we are presenting it as a separate option, settling is not quite its own path to compensation. You will still need to initiate either an insurance claim or a lawsuit. A settlement is simply an option for resolving your claim once it has been initiated.
So, what does it mean to reach a settlement? A “settlement” is an agreement reached by the parties to a dispute to resolve their differences privately. The typical arrangement is that the person or entity accused of being liable agrees to compensate the person bringing the claim. In exchange, the claimant agrees to drop the claim.
The majority of cases we handle actually end with a settlement. They are popular because they are efficient. Lawsuits and even insurance claims become increasingly costly as they drag on. When the accused party realizes the claimant has a strong case, they usually cut their losses and decide it’s cheaper to pay the claimant now as opposed to compensating them after a lengthy and expensive trial or claims process. And the person bringing the claim usually agrees because they also benefit from resolving the case early. Immediate compensation can often be more favorable than enduring a long and expensive trial or claims process that they could lose after all. However, at times the insurance company won’t make a fair offer early on and so the case will have to be litigated.
Proving Fault in a Parking Lot Slip and Fall Case
Whether you make an insurance claim or file a lawsuit, before you are able to recover compensation, the relevant decision maker will have to determine that the person you brought the claim against was at fault for causing your slip and fall accident. In this section, we will explain the liability rules applied by both claims adjusters and courts and discuss how your attorney might go about proving fault in a court of law.
Who Can Be Held Liable?
The first important question is who can be held liable. If you pursue an insurance claim, you will have to answer this question to determine which insurance company you should file your claim with. And if you file a lawsuit, you will need to know who to sue. The question really boils down to who is responsible for maintaining the safety of the parking lot. The trouble is that it usually isn’t immediately apparent whom this might be. So, for a parking lot slip and fall accident case, your attorney will probably have to do some investigating to determine who can and should be held accountable for your accident.
Commercial Parking Lots
Let’s take a simple example: a grocery store parking lot. See if you can figure out, without doing any research, who is responsible for maintaining the safety of the lot. Your intuitive guess is probably the grocery store, and in some cases this is true. But how can we know for sure? After all, the question is who is responsible for maintaining the lot, not who seems responsible. We need to do some detective work. Here are a few other suspects we might need to consider:
- The grocery store property’s owner: Often, grocery stores don’t actually own the physical store but are leasing the property. It’s possible that the lease specifies that the owner/landlord is responsible for maintaining the safety of the parking lot.
- A third-party contractor: Sometimes, stores will have a contract with a third-party company to do maintenance work. Perhaps the grocery store contracted with another company to maintain their parking lot.
- An independent owner of the parking lot: Parking lots are not always owned and operated by the adjacent businesses. Maybe the grocery store exists in a large shopping plaza, and someone other than the grocery store is responsible for maintaining the parking lot, such as the actual owner of the property.
Figuring out which of these “suspects” is responsible is not always so straightforward. Besides the need for intensive investigative work, another complication is that even if one party is technically responsible for the parking lot, that party might not be liable if someone else had control over the parking lot. For example, suppose the property owner is contractually responsible for maintaining the parking lot, but in practice, the grocery store, as the owner’s tenant, takes it upon itself to maintain the parking lot. In that situation, the store might be liable rather than the property owner.
Another great example of the challenges to figuring out which party is responsible for a parking lot is found in the case Youssef v. Shri-Ram Donuts #3 LLC. Shri-Ram Donuts, a donut shop, was sued by a customer who slipped and fell on snow and ice on the sidewalk right outside the shop’s premises. Though this case didn’t directly involve a parking lot, the question of who could be held responsible featured the same complexities.
Shri-Ram Donuts was leasing the building housing their donut shop. Their lease revealed they were responsible for snow removal from the premises, which included the parking lot. However, the story didn’t end there. They had also hired a third party contractor, a company called “Lipowski,” to remove snow and ice from their parking lot, sidewalk, and walkway. Their contract with Lipowski featured a clause establishing that Lipowski was not responsible for personal injuries arising from slip and fall accidents. So, multiple sources had to be consulted before figuring out who could be held responsible for the claimant’s injuries.
As you can see, an attorney might need to investigate further to determine who is actually responsible for the parking lot where you were injured.
Public Parking Lots
So far, we have only addressed commercial parking lots. But slip and fall accidents happen in non-commercial, public lots also. Who is responsible then? Under the New Jersey Tort Claims Act, a public entity can be held liable when a dangerous condition of public property causes injury to someone who is lawfully on the property. Similar to accidents in commercial lots, determining who is liable for a slip and fall in a public lot will require investigation by your attorney.
One reason is that the New Jersey Tort Claims Act is complicated and subject to many exceptions. Take, for example, the case of Rossi v. Borough of Haddonfield. Mrs. Rossi sued the Borough of Haddonfield after she fractured her ankle slipping in an icy municipal parking lot. Apparently, the parking lot had been icy for at least a week due to a stretch of wet and cold weather.
Mrs. Rossi ultimately lost her lawsuit because of what is known as the “common law snow removal immunity,” which basically says that under most circumstances, a public entity can not be held liable for negligent snow removal. So, it was the cause of Mrs. Rossi’s accident that ultimately absolved the borough of responsibility.
Your attorney will need to consider the precise circumstances of your case to determine which public entities are liable and whether any facts might make them immune from being sued.
Another challenge is that even if the parking lot is public, the relevant public entity may not be responsible for keeping it safe. The rule applicable to commercial parking lots that liability boils down to who is in charge of maintaining the safety of the parking lot applies to public lots also. So, it might be that the parking lot is public, but the government contracted with a private company to maintain the safety of the lot. In that case, the private company might be the proper entity to target with an insurance claim or lawsuit.
The main takeaway is that for any given parking lot, there are often many people capable of being held responsible. To figure out who should be sued or whose insurance to file the claim under, your attorney will need to do some sleuthing.
When Is One At Fault for a Slip and Fall Accident in a Parking Lot?
Once you’ve determined who can be held responsible for your slip and fall accident, you’ll want to know whether they will be considered responsible in the eyes of the law. Both insurance adjusters and courts apply the same liability standards when determining whether the party you are accusing is indeed at fault for causing your accident. The legal standard in effect in these cases is known as “premises liability.”
Premises liability is essentially a version of negligence. Negligence is a legal term roughly translatable to “carelessness.” Someone is negligent when the law expects them to act in a certain way and they fail to act in that way. The idea behind premises liability is that the law expects property owners to maintain their property in a reasonably safe manner. The property owner is negligent when they fail to keep their property reasonably safe. The precise rule is as follows:
“Property owners are liable when a dangerous condition of their property that they knew of or should have known of causes someone lawfully on their property to be injured, and they failed to take reasonable steps to address the condition.”
This area of the law is quite tricky so let’s unpack this further:
We are using the term “property owner” loosely. Remember from the last section that we are really interested in whoever is responsible for maintaining the safety of the parking lot, which might not be the actual property owner.
Dangerous Condition Caused One’s Injuries
For the person responsible for the safety of the parking lot to be held liable for your injuries, a dangerous condition of the parking lot must have caused your injuries. To be more precise, the dangerous condition must have been a “proximate cause” of your injuries. “Proximate cause” is a tricky legal concept, but for our purposes, let’s think about it as a cause that is direct and necessary to one’s injuries. Ask yourself if there is a certain, significant connection between a dangerous condition of the parking lot and your injuries.
Property Owner Knew of or Should Have Known of the Dangerous Condition
For someone to be blameworthy for a dangerous condition on their property having caused someone to be injured, they must have had some notice that this condition existed. There are three ways this can be established:
1. Created the dangerous condition…
The first way is if they created the dangerous condition themselves. Imagine someone slips and falls in a puddle of motor oil in a parking lot. If the property owner spilled the oil all over the parking lot, then we can reasonably infer that they knew about the condition.
2. Notified of the condition…
The second is if they were notified of the condition or learned of it themselves. If someone told the property owner about the oil spilled in the parking lot, it is safe to conclude that they knew about the oil from that point. The same goes if they discovered the oil spill during an inspection.
3. Should have known of the dangerous condition…
The third way is if they should have known of the dangerous condition, sometimes called constructive notice. The idea is that complete ignorance of a dangerous condition should not be a valid defense because a property owner’s responsibility for maintaining the safety of the premises includes actively checking the property to ensure its safety. It’s not enough to just avoid creating hazards and respond to dangers only when they’re notified of them. So, if the oil has been spilled in the parking lot for days and it would have been spotted by a simple inspection or routine monitoring, the law will hold them responsible because they should have known about it.
Claimant Lawfully on the Property
In order to hold the property owner liable for their injuries, the claimant must have been on the property lawfully. This is because the law doesn’t make property owners responsible for the injuries of trespassers. The whole point of holding property owners responsible when their unsafe premises cause people to be injured is that property owners should keep the people they invite or allow onto their property safe. This doesn’t apply to people not permitted to be on the property in the first place.
The property owner will only be liable if the dangerous condition of their property actually caused someone else to be injured.
Property Owner Failed to Take Reasonable Steps to Address the Condition
You will also need to prove that the property owner did not take reasonable steps to respond to the dangerous condition upon learning of it. This element isn’t too complicated when the property owner truly took no steps to remedy the dangerous condition. But what if they did take some action to address the hazard, but it wasn’t enough to prevent your accident? This makes things slightly more complex. The law will ask in these cases whether the accused party took reasonable steps to fix the dangerous condition. Your attorney will try to convince the court that the steps taken were unreasonable, while the property owner’s attorney will argue that the steps they took were reasonable enough.
If things are still fuzzy, that’s okay. This area of the law is incredibly complicated for a non-lawyer, so an experienced personal injury attorney should be handling your case. Our purpose is not to make you an expert in premises liability law. We just want to give you an idea of what might need to be true for someone to be responsible for your accident.
If you make an insurance claim, you are not responsible for proving the other party’s fault; the insurance adjuster will simply conduct an investigation. But, if you pursue a lawsuit, your attorney will need to make a compelling case that the other party is at fault for causing your accident for the court to hold them liable.
To build a strong case, you will need to prove each of the elements outlined in the previous section. And proving each element requires a comprehensive investigation. When we handle parking lot slip and fall cases, we rely on various types of evidence:
- Deposition – out of court testimony by owners, employees, and shoppers that witnessed the fall
- Written maintenance and inspection records
- Contracts, such as as lease agreements
- Surveillance footage
- Expert witness testimony
All of these sources of evidence help us build a comprehensive picture of who was responsible for maintaining the parking lot, what caused your injuries, and how much the responsible party is to blame for failing to address the dangerous condition. For example, maintenance records might prove that a property owner knew of a dangerous condition because an employee logged it. And video surveillance footage plus testimony by a medical expert could demonstrate that the dangerous condition in question caused your injuries. What we gather through our investigation then becomes evidence to present to the court, supporting each element in the fault inquiry.
A final step in the fault inquiry may involve assessing the role you, the injured party, played in causing the accident. Why would the insurance adjuster or court be concerned with your fault? Is the point of the case not to assess the other party’s fault?
The reality is that the law recognizes something we can all acknowledge to be true: that fault is rarely absolute. In any given slip and fall accident, many different people can carry some of the blame, including the victim. The law therefore allows claims adjusters and courts to assess how much fault, if any, the injured party might carry and adjust the damages accordingly.
Here’s an easy example. Brooke slips in a puddle of oil and falls in Store A’s parking lot. The court finds Store A is responsible for maintaining the safety of the lot and is liable for having failed to address the spilled oil. Next, the court considers whether Brooke carries any of the blame. They find out that she was on her cell phone where she fell and therefore didn’t notice the puddle of oil. They also discover that she was wearing old, worn out shoes that increased her risk of slipping. The court will assign a percentage of fault to Store A and a percentage to Brooke. Say Store A is 80% to blame, and Brooke is 20% at fault. The court will reduce the amount of damages Store A is ordered to pay Brooke by 20% so as to account for her role in causing the accident.
Different states have different takes on such comparative fault rules. New Jersey follows what is known as a “modified comparative rule.” Under the New Jersey formulation, a claimant can only recover damages if they are less than 50% at fault for causing the accident.
Will You Need an Attorney?
Whatever your path to compensation, to achieve the payment you deserve, you will need the assistance of a qualified personal injury attorney. Parking lot slip and fall cases are incredibly winnable, yet very difficult to navigate. Each option for compensation has unique pitfalls. Insurance claims are hard because the adjuster may be biased, and non-lawyers are not well-equipped to hold them accountable. Lawsuits can be more fair yet much more complicated. The law is elaborate, building a successful case is a tall task, and something so simple as filing a form late can derail your whole case. And without a robust claim backed by evidence and good legal arguments, you are unlikely to secure a fair settlement.
Bridging this gap between the winnability of these cases and the many obstacles standing in the way of winning is the expertise of an experienced personal injury attorney. The value an attorney can provide is quite clear. With the combination of extensive knowledge of the law and vast experience handling parking lot slip and fall cases, your attorney can handle the claims process and forge a simpler path to the compensation you deserve.
Parking Lot Slip and Fall Statistics
Though statistics about parking lot slip and fall accidents are few and far between, statistics concerning slip and fall accidents as a broader category give us some useful clues about their severity and significance. The National Fall Safety Institute reports that falls are the leading cause of hospital emergency room visits, comprising 21.3%. And the National Safety Council cites falls as being the most common type of preventable, non-fatal injury in the United States. They also report that falls are the second most common type of preventable, fatal injury in the United States.
The Centers for Disease Control give further context to this startling frequency of slip and fall accidents with their statistic that “one out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury.” This fact tells us that slip and fall accidents, in addition to being common, are quite dangerous. There is reason to believe that these facts and figures hold true for parking lot slip and fall accidents in particular. Parking lots are full of dangerous conditions, especially during bad weather. They are also an especially dangerous place to fall given the hard surface.
Frequently Asked Questions
It depends. If your slip and fall accident occurred in a parking lot for which a government entity is responsible, you may not be able to recover compensation. This is because government entities are generally immune from negligence lawsuits for accidents that happen because snow wasn’t removed; this is known as the “common law snow removal immunity.” But these rules are complicated, so you should consult with an attorney who can examine the precise facts of your case. On the other hand, if your slip and fall accident occurred in a commercial parking lot, you may be able to recover compensation for your injuries. The court in Pareja v. Princeton Int’l Props held that commercial landowners can be held responsible for failing to take reasonable steps to make their property safe when there is snow and ice during a storm.
If you slip and fall in a parking lot while you are working, you may be entitled to compensation through workers’ compensation benefits. These cases can become a little tricky. But as a general rule, if you hurt yourself within the scope of your employment, meaning that you hurt yourself while performing your necessary job functions, you should be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Depending on the circumstances, you may also be able to file a lawsuit against whoever was responsible for maintaining the safety of the parking lot, provided that it’s not your employer (no double dipping).
Generally, you have two years from the date of your accident to file a personal injury lawsuit. One important exception is if you are pursuing a lawsuit against a public entity like a city or town, in which case you have just 90 days from the date of your accident to initiate your claim.
Your first priority after taking a tumble in a parking lot should be to ensure your well-being. Assess your injuries and seek out medical attention if necessary. Keep in mind that the hard ground is capable of inflicting serious injuries, the symptoms of which might not show up immediately. Always be careful and seek medical attention if you think you may need it. Once you have ensured your physical well-being, it is a good idea to document the scene of the accident. The dangerous condition that caused your accident might not be around when your attorney or an insurance adjuster begins to investigate your claim, so securing photo evidence at the time of the accident is a good idea. You might also attempt to fill out an accident report form if it is clear who is responsible for the parking lot. Commercial businesses have these forms on hand for when an accident occurs on the premises. If you do fill out an accident report form, be sure to request a copy.
Yes. The New Jersey Tort Claims Act provides that a public entity can be held liable when their failure to maintain the safety of public property causes injury to another. However, it’s important to understand that the purpose of this law is to limit the liability of public entities, so it is full of exceptions. There are also further exceptions built into past court cases, such as the “common law snow removal immunity.” An attorney will need to assess the facts of your case and determine how they square with the relevant legal rules.
Possibly. When someone is killed in an accident, surviving family members can be compensated in what is known as a wrongful death lawsuit. In a wrongful death lawsuit, the deceased person’s estate sues whoever is to blame for the accident. If the accused person or entity is found to be at-fault, they are ordered to compensate the estate. This money is then distributed among the eligible beneficiaries as defined by New Jersey’s wrongful death laws. If you were financially dependent on your deceased family member when they died or are entitled to any inheritance from them, you may be eligible for compensation. The rules are exceedingly complicated, so you should discuss your exact circumstances with an attorney.
Who Should You Contact?
We have all come to depend on public and private entities to maintain the safety of their properties; most of us wouldn’t enter a property without this assurance. When this trust is broken, the results can be serious and expensive. If you are to secure the compensation you justly deserve, you will need the support of a competent and determined legal team. That is exactly what you get with the attorneys at Rosenblum Law. Relying on our decades of litigation experience and unrivaled legal expertise, we don’t stop until each and every one of our clients are made whole again. If you or a loved one have been injured in a parking lot slip and fall accident, don’t hesitate to take the crucial first step on the road to recovery. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.