You Fell on a Wet Floor in New Jersey: Can You Sue?

Most people who are on a property other than their own expect it to be well-maintained and safe. People who suffer from slip and fall injuries on wet floors often avoid serious injury or death, but that does not mean they don’t wind up with medical bills, lost wages due to time off work, and short/long-term pain and suffering as a result of their injuries. For this reason, if you fell on a wet floor in New Jersey, you may be entitled to compensation. 

What Is a Slip and Fall Accident? 

These kinds of accidents happen when someone finds themselves in a dangerous or hazardous condition, slips or trips, then falls and injures themselves. The terms “slip” and “trip” have some significant distinctions however. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) outlines these distinctions as follows: 

  1. you can slip when you lose your footing (on a wet surface, for example); 
  2. you can trip when you catch your foot on or in something; 
  3. and one or both of those can lead to a fall, which is when you come down to the floor or ground suddenly.

An easy way to remember this is to try to visualize the distinctions. Slips can occur when someone loses their footing on some wet surface that lacks traction. A trip can occur when a solid object obstructs your ability to walk, stopping your stride abruptly. Either one can cause you to fall to the ground unexpectedly.

Premises Liability Law

In New Jersey, slip and fall injuries that occur on property other than your own will fall under premises liability law. This essentially analyzes the different levels of liabilities that a negligent party may hold for a visitor’s injuries, depending on their visitor status, which we will cover in depth later in this article.

One main factor while applying premises liability law, for the purpose of this specific cause, is the consideration of whether the fall on a wet floor was “reasonably foreseeable.” What makes an accident reasonably foreseeable is whether an average person would have anticipated that an accident could occur based on the condition of the property. This would include if the responsible party made a reasonable effort to keep the property safe from wet and slippery floors or provide notice of the potential hazard. A classic example would be a supermarket that puts up a yellow “Slippery When Wet” sign indicating that the floor had recently been mopped and could be slippery and dangerous.

Where Can Slip and Fall Injuries Happen?

A wet floor could cause a potentially dangerous condition just about anywhere. The difficulty with keeping floors free of a slippery floor is that many different factors can cause the floor to get wet instantly, even right after an employee has cleaned and dried the floors. Let’s take a look at some examples of places that a wet and slippery floor can cause a dangerous slip and fall accident:

All of these places usually have custodial, maintenance employees, and/or the owners themselves who maintain the cleanliness and conditions of the properties, yet wet and slippery floors often cause slip and fall injuries in all of these places. It can be as simple as those responsible seeing or knowing of an existing or potential wet floor hazard and ignoring it. 

In Lebrio, for example, the plaintiff slipped on a spilled drink at a mall owned by the defendant. The defendant’s mall had several stores that sold drinks, and the defendant allowed customers to drink in public areas. The plaintiff sued the defendant for negligence, arguing that the defendant should have been aware of the risk of spilled drinks and taken more steps to clean up spills. After a trial, a jury awarded the plaintiff $427,000 for injuries to her knee and back. The Appellate Division of the Superior Court upheld the verdict. The evidence showed that spills regularly occurred at the defendant’s mall and that the defendant was aware of the risk. Accordingly, the defendant had the burden of showing that its precautions were reasonable and the plaintiff did not have to prove the defendant had notice of the specific spill that caused her to accident.

Common Causes of Slip and Fall Accidents on Wet Floors

There are seemingly endless possibilities for a floor to become wet and slippery, causing a slip and fall hazard for those who travel through the hazardous area. Often, a slippery and wet floor catches unsuspecting people and causes a harmful fall. Here are some of the most common causes of slip and falls on wet surfaces:

  • Spilled liquids
  • Broken or leaky pipes
  • Little to no traction surfaces
  • No warnings, announcements, or signage for a hazardous wet floor
  • Melted snow or ice
  • Public or private showers
  • Freshly painted floors (including stairs

This list is not comprehensive, and the possibilities for factors that could cause a slip and fall accident on a wet floor are endless. 

In Rasnow, the plaintiff slipped and fell on a wet staircase built and maintained by the defendant. The staircase was made of concrete, but the defendant had painted over it with an epoxy paint, which reduced the friction on it. There was no evidence that the defendant knew the staircase was wet when the plaintiff slipped on it. The plaintiff sued for negligence, and the defendant argued the lawsuit should be dismissed because the plaintiff had not proven the defendant knew about the danger. The Appellate Division of the Superior Court allowed the lawsuit to proceed. The court reasoned that the cause of the danger was the paint on the staircase, and the wetness would not have created a dangerous condition if the staircase had not been painted. For this reason, the defendant could be held responsible for the plaintiff’s fall.

When you slip you are usually falling at a faster rate than you can process

Status of the Injured Person Matters

Why is your status important, and what does that even mean? Your status is essentially whether you have permission to be on a property, and for what purpose. One of the first steps your attorney will take is to gather all of the details of your incident, in order to analyze your visitor status, and who will be held liable for your damages in the eyes of New Jersey’s laws. 

Generally, there are three categories that visitors are broken into, in order to analyze premises liability laws. The three categories are:

  1. Business Invitee
  2. Licensee 
  3. Trespasser 

Once your attorney confirms which category you belong to, they will be able to more accurately tell you what rights you have and what obligations the responsible party broke in the eyes of the law. This will ultimately be one of the more important pieces of information. Let’s dive a little deeper into what these three categories actually mean to a case.

Business Invitee:

A business invitee is someone who has permission to be on a property due to the owner allowing the premises to be open for business. Business invitees include residential and commercial tenants of a property and customers of a business. The basic test here is whether you being on the property will ultimately benefit those responsible for the property, which is usually a business entity. In this case, it is the property owner/manager’s duty to ensure that dangerous hazards are eliminated in a timely manner and business invitees are warned of any hidden defects that may cause injury. For example, a slippery floor that cannot be dried or taken care of in a timely manner will obligate the property owner to put in place warning signage, make announcements, or block off the area making it off-limits for visitor safety. This type of visitor status requires the property owner to maintain a very high standard of care for the visitors.

Licensees:

A licensee is someone who has legal permission to be on another’s property, including social guests. The individual or entity responsible for a property usually doesn’t have to inspect a property thoroughly before this type of visitor comes as long as they are reasonably warned of known and potential dangers. Examples of a licensee include but are not limited to labor contractors or a friend who is visiting your home. 

Trespassers:

A trespasser is someone who does not have permission to be on the property, causing this category of visitor to have the least amount of rights of the three. An individual or entity that is responsible for a property only owes a trespasser a minimal duty of care, such as not intentionally or maliciously hurting them. 

To explore visitor status further, let’s consider Lareau v. Somerset County Park Commission, where a person was crossing a footbridge on a golf course when he slipped and fell on its slippery wet surface. The accused party, the county park commission, argued that since Lareau was a trespasser, and it had no notice of any hazard, the trespasser did not have the right to recover damages. This particular golf course was not in use at the time of the injury, and the maintenance crew does not patrol the grounds during off-season, owing no special duty to those who decide to wander onto their property. The court agreed. It held that the property owner was not responsible for people walking on the golf course grounds in the off-season because it is minimally maintained during that time, meaning the injured party was a trespasser owed a minimal duty of care. Lareau was not able to recover damages.

Another example of a trespasser personal injury case is McNaboe v. Horizon Diner. Because a restaurant parking lot was full, McNaboe parked in a nearby supermarket parking lot and crossed Horizon Diner’s parking lot to get to the restaurant where he wanted to dine. He knew that the diner’s parking was for customers only, and there were also several signs in place to indicate this. While McNaboe was crossing the property of the diner, he slipped and fell. The court ruled in favor of the diner because McNaboe was a trespasser on the property so the diner did not breach it’s duty of minimal care to him.

What Are My Options for Compensation? 

There are two basic options your attorney will evaluate when looking to pursue recovering the costs of your damages:

  1. Filing an insurance claim
  2. Filing a lawsuit

These choices may seem pretty clear-cut, but they are actually quite complex and how best to navigate them in the eyes of the law will require a personal injury attorney to ensure that you get all the compensation you deserve.  

Filing an Insurance Claim

This step is often taken first after a slip and fall injury. This is because filing an insurance claim may sometimes be the most quick way to recover damages. Generally, the property owner will have a liability policy in place in the case that they are held liable for a visitor’s injury. 

Filing an insurance claim may not always be the best option because this means you are telling the insurance company that their policyholder is at fault for causing your injury, and that they should compensate you for any damages as a result. One major issue with the insurance claim option is that the insurance company is going to use their own investigators to determine whether their policyholder was truly at fault. The problem here is inherent: the insurance company will try their best to prove that their policyholder was not at fault, or at bare minimum fault so that they don’t have to compensate you, or if they have to, pay you the least possible amount. This means that there may be a complicated and strenuous negotiation phase in this process, which is where the expertise of a personal injury attorney will work in your absolute best interest.

Filing a Lawsuit

In filing a lawsuit, chances are that your attorney has considered and tried other options and sees it as the best possible route to take in pursuit of justice. A fall on a wet floor will come under a civil lawsuit, in which case you will become “plaintiff” and the accused party will be the “defendant(s).” On your behalf as the plaintiff, your attorney will submit a formal “complaint” requesting the court to recognize that the defendant was negligent according to the law. In this same complaint, your attorney will also request the court to remedy usually consisting of monetary damage compensation.  

The lawsuit process can sometimes be a better option than an insurance claim in some regards, and not so much in others. A lawsuit can have a more fair outcome than an insurance claim because your attorney, the judge, the court employees, and a jury have no personal stake in your case and, therefore, have a better chance of reaching an unbiased decision. 

A significant distinction between an insurance claim and a lawsuit is that in a lawsuit you will be fully responsible for investigating your claim, or hiring a third party to investigate. Another significant thing to think about is that a lawsuit may be more time consuming, and mentally and financially demanding. If you hire an attorney, he or she will take on most, if not all of the work, allowing you to focus on recovering from your injuries. 

Reaching a Settlement

The vast majority of personal injury cases we handle end in a settlement because of how efficient this can be. A settlement is often done privately, outside of court, with attorneys from all involved parties negotiating on behalf of their clients. Resolutions are reached when all parties come to an agreement that works for everyone, deciding on an amount that is acceptable to both the injured party and the parties liable. The settlement process ends with the accused party agreeing to pay the injured party and the injured party agreeing to drop the claim. The following are some expenses that may be covered in your injury settlement:

  • Medical treatment costs (current and/or future)
  • Lost wages (current and/or future)
  • Emotional trauma 
  • Expenses of dependants
  • Pain and suffering 

At Rosenblum Law, we also consider if you have dependents, and whether their needs will go unmet due to your injury. Even damages for emotional or physical pain and suffering may also be part of a claim.

There are many ways a settlement can happen. It doesn’t always come after an insurance claim or a lawsuit has been filed. A settlement can happen immediately after the accident if the parties involved agree to resolve the incident this way. Basically, a settlement can occur at any point, from right after your fall until just before a ruling from the court.

Settlements can be the most efficient way to resolve an accident, and usually leaves both parties content with the resolution.

Time Is of the Essence

Jurisdictions in every state have “statute of limitations” on different legal issues. A statute of limitations essentially limits the amount of time someone has to take a dispute to court, with the timer starting from the day of the incident. 

New Jersey’s statute of limitations for personal injury cases is two years, which means you must file a lawsuit within those two years from the slip and fall injury. If you happen to miss this timeline, the court system of New Jersey will be forced to refuse your case and, most likely, you will not be able to recover compensation. There are some exceptions, however, that may be taken into account by the courts:

  1. You are a minor at the time of the incident.
  2. You are incarcerated and unable to pursue compensation for a period of time.
  3. The claimant is differently abled, and requires a legal guardian for such decisions.

Suing a public entity like the State of New Jersey, however, has a different statute of limitations. You have 90 days from the date of an accident to file a claim. If you miss this deadline, you may be barred from pursuing compensation. If you satisfy an exception, the court may extend your time up for to one year, but this determination is made on a case-by-case basis.

To ensure you navigate this legal area in accordance with all of the proper New Jersey laws and regulations, contact one of our highly experienced personal injury attorneys. Your attorney will build a strong legal case for you that will ensure the best possible results whether you pursue an insurance claim, lawsuit, and/or settlement.

Dangers of a Fall on a Wet Floor

Slipping and falling on a wet floor may seem like the least of your worries, however it can very quickly become your biggest setback physically, mentally, and financially. The more serious risks associated with slipping and falling on wet floors include:

  • Hip fractures
  • Spine injury (even paralysis)
  • Neck injury
  • Shoulder injury
  • Broken bones 
  • Cuts and bruises
  • Internal bleeding
  • Head injuries, including traumatic brain injury

As you can see, a fall may result in minor injuries, such as cuts and bruises, or potentially life-altering conditions like paralysis. It’s also important to note that signs of an injury may not show up immediately, so it’s best to immediately seek medical attention to document the fall.

That record could prove invaluable if you need to pursue a claim.

Fall Related Statistics

Falls are one of the most common causes of injury in the United States. Slip and fall injuries account for over 8 million hospital emergency room visits, which is the leading cause of visits (23%). According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), about 1 in 5 falls result in a serious injury such as broken bones, strains, and head or neck injuries. In 2015, the total medical costs for falls accounted for about $50 billion, according to the CDC.


Frequently Asked Questions 

Do I really need an attorney to file something simple like an insurance claim?

We can’t emphasize this enough: without the help and guidance of a legal professional, your chances of recovering the full amount of compensation you deserve will be much lower. Filing an insurance claim may seem like a very simple part of the process, leading to a settlement amount, but there is much more to it than that. You may end up in a position where you will have to negotiate a settlement in accordance with personal injury liability laws, and if you have no experience in these areas, you may receive a significantly lower settlement than you deserve. Always consult an attorney as soon as possible after a fall. 

If I am a bystander and somehow affected, what are my rights to recover damages in New Jersey? 

New Jersey is one of the few states that allows a bystander claim in an accident, such as a slip and fall on a wet floor. In order for this claim to be made, the bystander must have been within some sort of dangerous zone involving the incident that made them a victim or could have made them a victim. For example, this bystander claim would apply if a person who fell landed on top of you, or if the person who fell was carrying packages and the contents spilled out and hit you causing injury. 

I lost a loved one due to a slip and fall accident. Do I have a wrongful death case?

If someone you love has lost their life due to someone else’s negligence that caused them to slip and fall on a wet floor, you may be able to recover damages to cover all expenses that stem from the incident, and to compensate those who have been affected by the death. In New Jersey, you will have to prove that the fall occurred because the landlord or management entity was careless and negligent, which directly caused the death. Additionally, you will have to prove that the deceased person would have been able to recover damages if they had survived their injuries. Not all family members may recover compensation, and there is a hierarchy of who can receive what share of the compensation if you win the case.


Who Should You Contact?

Have you suffered from a slip and fall injury on a wet floor in New Jersey due to someone else’s negligence? If you are to secure the compensation you justly deserve, you will need the support of the highly competent legal team here at Rosenblum Law. Our team’s unparalleled expertise will give you the best possible chance at recovering physically, mentally, and financially from your injuries. If you or a loved one have been injured in a slip and fall accident on a wet floor, 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.


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