- Personal Injury
- New Jersey Personal Injury Lawyers
- A Guide to Slip & Fall Accident Claims in New Jersey
- Can You Sue to Recover Compensation for a Slip and Fall Accident in a New Jersey Store?
Written By:Adam H. Rosenblum
Your Dedicated & Trusted Legal Team
3 Generations & 100+ Years of Combined Legal Experience
When you imagine shopping, you probably think of buying ingredients for a family meal or leisurely browsing for a new outfit. Those associations are appropriate, as shopping is usually a familiar and pleasant experience. Unfortunately for some, that is not always the reality.
Retail environments host nearly every type of hazard. Customers could be injured by items falling from high shelves, precarious stacks of cans avalanching onto them, or by slipping on any number of substances. As we will discuss later in this article, victims have slipped on everything from water to grease to grapes. One bad spill is all it takes for an innocent customer to fall and suffer an injury.
If you are reading this article, you might be one such victim. You are not alone; nearly 800,000 victims are hospitalized for falls each year. Considering that our country contains over one million retail stores, there is a strong likelihood of falling in a retail environment.
Falling can be a painful, embarrassing, and expensive ordeal. If a careless store owner or employee created an unsafe environment, he or she may be liable for your medical expenses. The idea of pursuing compensation might seem overwhelming but this article will help to demystify the process and get you closer to focusing on recovery.
Is a Store Liable for a Customer Injury?
The short answer to this question: Yes.
The legal system has very high expectations for retail safety. The Supreme Court of New Jersey recently stated that, “The duty of due care requires a business owner to discover and eliminate dangerous conditions, to maintain the premises in safe condition, and to avoid creating conditions that would render the premises unsafe.”
What does the phrase “duty of due care” mean? This legal concept means that a person owes it to someone to act with care. If they fail to meet their duty to act with care, they would be considered ‘negligent.’ In order to win a case, you’ll likely have to prove that the store was somehow negligent.
Proving a Store Owner Was Negligent
In order to prove a store owner was negligent, we must examine each element of their duty of care: to discover and eliminate dangerous conditions, maintain the premises, and avoid creating unsafe conditions.
1. Discover and Eliminate Dangerous Conditions
A business owner has a duty to remove any unsafe conditions he or she knows about. New Jersey case law states that, “A proprietor generally is not liable for injuries caused by defects of which he had no actual or implied knowledge or notice, and no reasonable opportunity to discover.”
So, what is considered, “reasonable opportunity to discover?” Business owners are expected to make an effort to discover unsafe conditions and the ‘I didn’t know about it’ excuse rarely holds up in court. They are only off the hook when a hazard was undiscoverable by an ordinary person or clearly caused by the previous owner of the building.
A victim can prove that a proprietor knew of a dangerous condition using video footage, eyewitness testimony, incident reports, and other forms of evidence. It’s our job as expert personal injury attorneys to collect and analyze this evidence in order to hold the business owner accountable for their negligence.
2. Maintain the Premises
Business owners have a basic obligation to keep a clean and safe environment for their customers and employees. This is especially true in environments which pose an ‘inherent and foreseeable hazard’. In such situations, the slip and fall accident victim doesn’t even need to prove that the store knew about the specific hazard that caused the accident. This is referred to as the “mode of operation” rule.
For example, in one case a victim was shopping in the produce aisle when she slipped on a string bean and fell to the floor. She sued the store and the court initially sided with the business based on the rationale that the staff did not have notice of the hazard. The higher court, however, ruled that the open-display, self-serve produce section was likely to result in some dropped beans. The court went on to say, “If the operator chooses to sell in this way, he must do what is reasonably necessary to protect the customer from the risk of injury that mode of operation is likely to generate.”
The idea is that if part or all of the property is likely to pose a hazard, the business owner should pay special attention to maintain the safety of that environment and would be considered negligent for failing to do so. If you can prove that your accident took place in part of the store that posed an ‘inherent hazard,’ you might not need to prove that the store knew about the specific unsafe condition. The store should have anticipated and prevented it before it ever happened.
3. Avoid Creating Unsafe Conditions
This element of duty is the most straightforward. If a staff member were to have knowingly spilled grease on the floor and walked away, he or she would have certainly created an unsafe condition and would be guilty of negligence.
In the case of Smith v. First National Stores, a customer fell down a flight of stairs in a supermarket. The staircase was also used by employees, who had tracked grease and sawdust up the stairs from the meat department of the store, resulting in a slippery staircase.
Like in the case above, the lower court sided with the store by saying the victim hadn’t proved the store owner had notice of the unsafe condition. The higher court, however, stated that the dangerous condition was the store’s fault and “Notice… is not required where a defendant through its agents and employees creates a dangerous condition.”
These cases demonstrate why it’s important to hire an attorney who will get it right the first time. Personal injury cases are notoriously complicated and, if you were injured in a bigger store, you may be going up against a team of seasoned corporate lawyers. You will want to make sure your attorney is experienced in slip and fall cases in New Jersey stores.
Options for Compensation
Store owners will likely carry general liability insurance, also known as commercial liability insurance. While this coverage isn’t required by law, most landlords do require it and corporations will certainly carry a policy. If you choose to file an insurance claim, an adjuster will be assigned to your case. This person will assess your accident and determine how much money to give you, if any. Remember that insurance adjusters are biased toward the company they are representing, meaning that they aren’t reviewing your case objectively. Their job is to give you as little compensation as possible.
Many victims think they can handle such an insurance claim on their own. If their injuries are minor, that might be true. If you suffered a more serious injury, however, the stakes are too high for you to attempt to take on the insurance company without professional legal support.
Lawsuit, Settlement, & Trial
If you are not able to recover the compensation you need from an insurance claim, you may have no choice but to file a lawsuit. You will definitely need to hire a lawyer if you choose this route. Our attorneys will help you collect all the evidence from your accident, analyze the facts, and develop arguments that will convince any jury that you deserve compensation.
Some victims hesitate to sue because they don’t want the headache of a trial. The good news is that insurance companies don’t want to go to trial either. Once they get notice that you’ve decided to sue, they are much more likely to cooperate and settle on a fair financial award. Most of our cases settle and our clients never see a courtroom.
Occasionally, a case will go to trial and be left up to a jury. The jury will listen to both sides of the story and make a decision. In New Jersey, more than one party can be guilty under the comparative fault rule. That means that the jury will assign a percentage of fault to each party and the judge will tailor any financial awards to those percentages. For example, if the store owner is found to be 70% guilty for the accident and the victim 30% liable, the victim will receive 70% of the compensation awarded. In this state, as long as you were not more than 50% guilty, you can still be entitled to money for the other parties’ negligence.
What are Common Slip and Fall Hazards in Stores?
There are many different types of scenarios that can lead to a slip and fall accident that leaves a victim with injuries. Your own case may be similar to one of the ones outlined below.
In one New Jersey case, a woman was doing her Christmas shopping in a local mall when she slipped and fell in a puddle on the floor, which turned out to be a spilled beverage. The victim sued and the court ruled in her favor on the basis that the mall allowed patrons to roam freely with their drinks, creating a “reasonable probability” of danger. She was awarded $7,500 at the time of her case which, with inflation, would now be over $13,140.
In another case, a woman and her children were entering a restaurant on a rainy evening. Both she and her children slipped on a combination of grease and rainwater in the entryway. No caution signs or anti-slip mats were provided, so the restaurant was found to be negligent and she was awarded $250,000.
The jury did find the victim to be 49% guilty for the accident. Using the comparative fault rule discussed earlier in this article, the judge subtracted that percentage from her award. After interest, she still received $138,643. This case goes to show that even if you think you were somewhat at fault for your accident, it is still worth pursuing compensation.
Leaky roofs are another major hazard. A twenty-three year old woman was shopping in a toy store when she slipped and fell, suffering major injuries which sent her to the hospital. It was later found that the roof had major issues that the store had known about. The victim sued and eventually won her case.
A woman was leaving a stall in an airport bathroom. There was no water on the floor when she entered the stall but when she left the floor was slippery and she fell. Moments after her fall, she saw a custodian come out of a closet holding a caution sign and a mop. Clearly, the floor had just been cleaned.
The victim sued and the court sided with the airport and cleaning company at her first trial. A higher court found that while the airport was innocent, the cleaning company could be liable. Her case was granted a new trial, where the company was likely found to be negligent.
Fruits and vegetables cause a surprising number of injuries. Customers have been injured by grapes, string beans, and vegetable leaves. These cases all took place in ‘self service’ areas of stores, such as the checkout area or produce aisle. These are areas which have an inherently hazardous ‘mode of operation,’ as discussed earlier, and require the store owner to take extra care to prevent any hazards.
What Are the Most Common Slip and Fall Injuries?
As with most accidents, any number of injuries may be caused by slipping and falling. But these victims typically suffer the same types of injuries due to the motion of a body falling and people’s instinctive reaction to brace for, or break such a fall.
Wrist and ankle sprains are common among fall victims, who often attempt to break the fall with their hands or feet. A bad sprain can be very painful and can lead to loss of wages, physical therapy bills, and inability to perform everyday tasks. People sometimes think of sprains as minor injuries but they can still be inconvenient and very costly.
The National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI) reported that, “Of all fractures from falls, hip fractures are the most serious and lead to the greatest health problems and number of deaths.” Broken bones can necessitate time away from work, surgery, or even permanent disability.
Bone injuries often develop complications in older adults. According to the NFSI, “falls account for 87% of all fractures among people over the age of 65” and “half of all elderly adults (over the age of 65) hospitalized for hip fractures cannot return home or live independently after the fracture.” Older adults who suffer fractures may require in-home care, which is very expensive.
Head and Brain Injuries
Head and brain injuries are very serious. Nearly half of all brain injuries resulted from falls. Common head injuries include hemorrhage, concussions, edema (swelling of the brain,) diffuse axonal injury (damage to brain cells.) All of these injuries can cause life-altering compilations, such as seizures, vertigo, and memory loss.
Spinal Cord Injuries
Wrongful Death for Slip and Fall Accidents
If you lost a loved one to a slip and fall accident, you may want to consider pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit. A wrongful death is one which occurred due to another party’s negligence. In the state of New Jersey, a wrongful death suit can be filed by most family members or anyone who can prove they were financially dependent on the victim.
Personal injury and wrongful death cases have a similar standard of proof. You must prove that the store owner had, as mentioned earlier, a duty of care, that they breached that duty, that their breach caused the accident, and that the accident caused the death of your loved one. If you win a wrongful death suit, you can recover compensation for the victim’s lost income, funeral expenses, medical expenses, and loss of services they might have provided to you and your family (e.g., caretaking or help with a family business).
Frequently Asked Questions
The statute of limitations on a slip and fall case in New Jersey is two years. That means that starting from the day of your accident, you have two years to file a lawsuit.
As mentioned before, stores can be very hazardous environments. One customer was reaching for a golf bag on a high shelf when another bag fell and struck her. Another was standing near a stack of soda cans which fell suddenly, knocking her over and causing damage to her fourth vertebra. Even products themselves can be dangerous. One shopper was crouching down to pick up a carton of Coca-Cola when a bottle burst, leaving his eye permanently damaged. Although not slip and fall accidents, victims of these kinds of store-related injuries should contact an attorney for legal advice.
What Should You Do if You Slipped and Fell in a Store?
If you or a loved one slipped and fell in a store, contact Rosenblum Law. Our attorneys have decades of experience handling nearly every sort of accident that can happen in a store. We have a record of winning substantial financial awards for slip and fall victims and their families. If you’ve been the victim of a store owner’s negligence, contact Rosenblum law by emailing or calling 888-883-5529 today.
How to Cite Rosenblum Law’s Article
Adam H. Rosenblum (Jul 8, 2021). Can You Sue to Recover Compensation for a Slip and Fall Accident in a New Jersey Store?. Rosenblum Law Firm, https://rosenblumlaw.com/personal-injury/nj/slip-fall/fall-in-store/
Adam H. Rosenblum "Can You Sue to Recover Compensation for a Slip and Fall Accident in a New Jersey Store?". Rosenblum Law Firm, Jul 8, 2021. https://rosenblumlaw.com/personal-injury/nj/slip-fall/fall-in-store/