No one expects to slip or trip, and fall while walking on a sidewalk. When this does occur, however, the accident may be due to someone else’s negligence, and you may be entitled to compensation. That’s why it’s a good idea to contact a personal injury attorney to discuss the circumstances of your fall if you were injured.
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What Is a Slip, Trip, and Fall Accident?
A slip, trip, and fall accident may seem very self explanatory, but there are very important distinctions to be made. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) outlines these distinctions as follows:
- you can slip when you lose your footing;
- you can trip when you catch your foot on or in something;
- and one or both of those can lead to a fall, which is when you come down to the floor or ground suddenly and accidentally
New Jersey Premises Liability Law
Generally, if you or someone you love has sustained an injury from a slip and fall accident, you have the right to pursue compensation as long as the incident occurred due to the negligence of another party. In New Jersey, slip and fall injury cases fall under the state’s liability law.
Premises liability law essentially considers whether a fall was reasonably foreseeable. An accident would be reasonably foreseeable if an average person would have anticipated that an accident could occur based on the condition of the property. This also includes whether an owner made a reasonable effort to keep the property repaired, safe, and/or provided some form of warning (like a sign) if a dangerous condition was present but not yet fixed.
In the Eyes of the Law, Not All Sidewalks Are the Same
Sidewalk injury liability can be very tricky due to the complexities that are inherent in their location and placement. Usually, sidewalks lead from buildings and other areas that encounter foot traffic to roads and parking lots, and are also along most roadways. This means that some sidewalks are public property on public land, and others are private property, such as those within a private housing subdivision.
The responsibility that comes with sidewalk maintenance varies from place to place. Different cities and towns have their own rules and regulations. For example, some localities require public sidewalk maintenance to be done by public authorities, whereas others require private entities to maintain their own portion of a sidewalk along with their own property. In New Jersey’s larger cities, the city government will handle maintenance of sidewalks, litter removal, and repairs. However, on some sidewalks in New Jersey, such as in less urban, more residential areas, the local government requires the adjacent property owner to maintain their own portion of a sidewalk.
Liability in such cases may also vary. Some local authorities will not only mandate maintenance, but also liability of sidewalks to private individuals or entities due to their assignment of responsibility. Other places don’t allow a private individual or entity to be sued so long as the sidewalk is public, even if the private entity or individual is responsible for it’s maintenance. In the New Jersey case of Wasserman, the plaintiff slipped and fell on a sidewalk next to the house of an employee of the defendant. The employee was a salesman who worked from a home office. The plaintiff sued for negligence. The Appellate Division of the Superior Court did not allow the lawsuit to proceed because the accident happened at a residence, not a commercial property. New Jersey law allows people who slip and fall on a business’s sidewalk to sue for damages, but in this case, the fact that the salesman was working from home did not make his residence a commercial business property. In short, his house was not a part of the defendant’s business.
Your Visitor Status: Liability and Negligence
You and your attorney will have to figure out whether you have any liability in your own case, how much of that is attributed to your own negligence, and how much negligence was on the part of someone else. Usually, if you slip, trip, and/or fall on a sidewalk, it is not on your own property. This means that the chances of someone else being held accountable for liability is usually higher, and you should contact an attorney to help you navigate the legal process. Your attorney will analyze all of the circumstances of your specific case to make sure you know who can be held liable in the eyes of the law. These types of cases are almost entirely governed by what is known as premises liability.
Under New Jersey common law, a person filing a claim must establish whether a landlord owed them some duty of care, and how a breach of that duty led to an injury. Premises liability applies to accidents that occur on property other than your own. The duty of care by a landlord depends on the status of the visitor. The three main category of visitors are:
- Business Invitee
Someone who is allowed or invited onto a property for the benefit of the land owner, usually to engage in business transactions, is called a “business invitee,” and will be granted a high duty of care from the property owner or manager compared to the other visitor statuses. This type of visitor is allowed on the property, but often times limited in where they are allowed to go.
Business invitees include residential and commercial tenants of a property and customers of a business. A property owner or manager has a duty of care to these visitors to ensure that dangerous hazards in permitted areas are repaired in a timely manner and the business invitees are warned of any hidden defects that may cause injury. Usually, this is done by putting up signs, cones, and other signage or announcements to warn people of any kind of hazard. Additionally, these signs, warnings, and announcements usually indicate where a business invitee is allowed to be on the property. If this kind of visitor does not follow the rules of the property, their injury may be deemed due to their own negligence, and compensation will likely be harder to pursue.
Visitors who have legal permission to be on another’s property for reasons other than being a business invitee are called “licensees.” The owner or manager of a property does not have the same duty of care to these types of visitors on their property. For example, the owner or manager of a property does not have to inspect and perfect a property for a licensee’s visit, however these visitors must still be warned of known dangers on the property. An example of a licensee would be construction or third-party maintenance workers who are asked to enter the property by an owner or manager, perhaps to repair something. Social guests attending a party or event, or just plain visiting someone, also fall into this category of licensee. Here again, though, liability may not fall entirely on the property owner or manager. It depends on the individual circumstances of each case.
Anyone who does not fit into the category of a business invitee or a licensee usually does not have permission of any kind to be on the property, and will fall under the category and visitor status of a “trespasser.” An owner or manager of a property does not owe a trespasser very much of a duty of care at all. Generally, the only duty of care that is owed to a trespasser is not to intentionally, maliciously, and/or recklessly cause harm to the trespasser. Let’s consider the example of a trespasser who goes onto a private property sidewalk without permission, trips and falls, and sustains serious injuries. In the eyes of the law, this trespasser does not have permission to be on the property, and therefore will carry most, if not all of the liability for the accident.
New Jersey’s Modified Comparative Fault Law
In New Jersey, the comparative fault laws are very similar to New York’s comparative fault laws, but with some important distinctions. Under New Jersey’s “modified” comparative fault laws, a claimant may recover damages as long as they are not at majority fault for an incident. This means if you fall on a sidewalk, and the court finds you to be over 50% at fault for your own accident, you will be completely barred from pursuing compensation from the other party. For example, you might not receive any compensation if you were walking on a sidewalk while texting your friend about plans for the weekend, missed seeing an obvious hazard that had signage warning about it, then fell and injured yourself. The court might find that due to your own negligence of texting while walking, and completely missing the signage posted for your own safety, you are 51% liable for your own accident.
Third Party Liability
A slip, trip, and/or fall injury may involve more than just two parties. If there were three or more parties involved in your accident, and you believe any party other than the primary two share some of the negligence, you may be able to bring all parties to justice. An example of this is when landlords hire third-party maintenance or property management companies to carry out daily tasks for them. Some of these delegated responsibilities include trash removal, snow and ice removal, landscaping work, and general building and grounds maintenance. In our experience, these entities might share liability for injuries with the landlord in some cases.
Liability can be extended to third parties and the primary parties responsible as long as you can show that these parties failed to perform at their duty of care for a visitor. For example, if a maintenance group hired by a landlord is negligent in maintaining the conditions of the sidewalk, they will likely be held responsible for an injury, but this does not mean the landlord is off the hook. And, in this same scenario, if the landlord had somehow disadvantaged the property management group by not letting them know that the sidewalk was a part of their responsibilities, then it may result in all of the liability being shifted back on the landlord. The bottom line is that, in order to ensure all responsible parties are brought to justice, be sure to contact a personal injury attorney after your accident.
What Should You Do After a Fall on a Sidewalk?
After a fall on a sidewalk, many people may think of it as a very insignificant incident, however you should always take the right precautionary measures to ensure your rights if you need to sue. Below are some key things we recommend you should do:
- Seek medical help, as your health should always be a top priority
- Report the incident
- Document all of the details (with pictures/video, in writing, etc.)
- Do not give verbal or written statements to anyone
- Call an expert attorney
These steps are crucial for your overall well being. After making sure you are able to move and don’t have any mechanical injuries, you should always seek medical attention, as this will create a record of the incident.
What Are Your Options for Recovering Damages?
Let’s take a look at the main options you have when pursuing a sidewalk fall injury case:
- Filing an insurance claim
- Filing a lawsuit
Filing an Insurance Claim
This option is usually the first step in a sidewalk fall injury case because it usually initiates a much faster process to compensation than going through the entire process of a lawsuit. The person or entity that is responsible for the maintenance of the sidewalk will usually be held liable if their negligence caused the hazardous condition that led to your injury. This person or entity will also generally have liability insurance to cover accidents that occur due to their own negligence. Your attorney will check whether the party responsible has liability insurance, and if so, he or she may suggest that you pursue a resolution with them first.
This may seem like the best option based on what you know about it so far, but there’s more to filing an insurance claim than what appears on the surface. You are essentially telling the insurance company that their policyholder is at fault for causing your injury and that they should now pay you for damages. But through the insurance claim option, the insurance company’s own people will investigate the accident, and determine whether or not their policyholder was truly at fault for your fall on the sidewalk. Even if they do decide in your favor, it is the insurance company that will calculate what they think you are owed. This is where an attorney’s knowledge of prior settlement amounts and negotiation skills will be valuable to your case. Your attorney will fight to make sure you get the compensation you need and deserve, not just what the insurance company thinks you should be paid.
Filing a Lawsuit
The next option you and your attorney may analyze would be whether to file a lawsuit on the matter. Insurance claims don’t always go the way you may have planned, and sometimes you may need to have your attorney file a lawsuit, demanding compensation for your losses. Filing a lawsuit for a personal injury incident falls under civil law, and you as the claimant will become the “plaintiff” and the party you are accusing will be the “defendant.” As the plaintiff, you can ask the court to recognize that the defendant committed a legal wrong, and you can request a specific or general solution. We find that most commonly in cases like this, a plaintiff will request that the court force the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for losses.
Initiating a lawsuit requires your attorney to submit a formal “complaint” to the court to clearly state why the defendant was negligent and how your injury resulted from that negligence. A formal complaint will prove these aspects by using all of the detailed facts from your accident in accordance with New Jersey law. Finally, the complaint will usually include a request for the court to demand that the defendant compensate you for any damages you suffered, and damages that you will suffer in the future as a result of this injury.
This option can sometimes be the only way to pursue the compensation you deserve, especially if the party you believe was liable does not take responsibility and their insurance does not compensate you. On the bright side, a lawsuit can have a much more fair outcome than an insurance claim because the judge, the court employees, and a jury have no personal stake in your case. Therefore, there’s a better chance of the court reaching unbiased decisions.
Keep in mind that a lawsuit will likely require the most amount of work. One primary reason for this is because you and your attorney (and not an insurance adjuster) will be fully responsible for investigating your claim, or hiring a third party to investigate. Lawsuits can easily be the most time consuming, mentally draining, and financially demanding. The good news is that your attorney should take on most, if not all of the stress and “heavy lifting,” so that you can focus on recovering from your injuries.
Reaching a Settlement
Reaching a settlement is the most likely outcome of personal injury cases. The reason is that this is usually the most efficient way to handle a dispute, to privately solve it outside of court. Usually this type of resolution involves the attorneys of all parties negotiating and eventually reaching a compensation amount that is acceptable to all parties involved. The settlement and resolution usually ends with a written agreement outlining what the compensation amount will be, how it will be paid, and when it will be paid. Once this is done, the claimant will generally agree to not pursue a lawsuit or any other claims related to the injury. A settlement can occur at any point during the legal process, from right after your accident up until just before a ruling from the court.
Here are some expenses that may be covered in a sidewalk fall injury settlement:
- Medical treatment costs (current and/or future)
- Lost wages (current and/or future)
- Emotional trauma
- Expenses of dependants
- Pain and suffering
Settlements are a very dynamic method of resolution, as they are not restricted to specific procedures unlike an insurance claim and/or lawsuit. Most cases we handle end in settlements because it is usually the most efficient and cost-effective way to resolve a fall injury victim’s claim, and typically leaves all parties satisfied.
Let’s look at Liliana Arrunategui v. Fairview Cemetery Co. of New Jersey as a real-life example of a sidewalk fall settlement. In this case, Arrunategui was a 59-year-old housekeeper walking adjacent to the Fairview Cemetery when she slipped, tripped, and fell due to a sidewalk slab that was uneven. After the incident, she was taken to the hospital by an ambulance, where a doctor discovered that she had a very serious displaced comminuted fracture of the right knee cap. During the surgery, something went wrong and Arrunategui was left with a permanent limp. The total awarded damages amounted to $335,000, of which she received $268,000 because, under New Jersey’s comparative negligence rule, the jury found her 20% liable and the cemetery 80% liable for the injury.
Statute of Limitations
Just like many things in life, you don’t have all the time in the world to take action. Every state sets a time limit for people to file civil lawsuits after a particular incident has occurred. These time limits set by the specific statute of limitations may vary in different types of cases. It is very important to take action as soon as possible after an incident occurs that is legally remediable.
In New Jersey, the statute of limitation for personal injury lawsuits is two years, which means from the time of your fall accident, the clock starts ticking. Within two years of your injury, you must take initiative to file a lawsuit if needed, or else you may be barred from doing so. Some exceptions that may apply are as follows:
- You are a minor at the time of the incident.
- You are incarcerated and unable to pursue compensation for a period of time.
- The claimant is differently abled, and requires a legal guardian for such decisions.
In these kinds of scenarios, the court may be required to make exceptions, or make exceptions specific to an individual’s case. Most of the time however, if you miss your two-year deadline, the New Jersey courts will be forced to refuse your case, barring you from compensation forever.
Suing a public entity is slightly different. If you fell on a public sidewalk and are making a claim against the State of New Jersey, for example, your statute of limitations is strictly 90 days from the time of the accident. If you do not meet this deadline, you will lose your right to be heard by the court, unless you satisfy one of the exceptions.
Fall Injury Statistics
Falls are one of the most common causes of injury in the United States. 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. As the second leading cause of accidental injuries in the United States, falls simply cannot be ignored because they are far too common.
Frequently Asked Questions
Can I still sue if I am not a business invitee or licensee of the premises but fall on a sidewalk?
It depends. Keep in mind, many sidewalks are public property, so you may be able to pursue compensation regardless of what your status may be. For those sidewalks that are on private land, your best chance of recovering compensation for a fall injury on them would be to hire an attorney and figure out how to prove that the entity responsible did not meet their minimal duty of care to you, causing your injury.
What is premises liability law pertaining to a sidewalk?
Premises liability law considers whether a sidewalk fall accident was reasonably foreseeable. An accident would be reasonably foreseeable if an average person would have anticipated that an accident could occur based on the condition of the sidewalk. This also includes whether the party responsible made a reasonable effort to keep the sidewalk repaired, safe, and/or provided some form of warning if a dangerous condition was present but not yet fixed.
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. 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 on a sidewalk ended up hitting and injuring you as a result, or if the person who fell was carrying packages and the contents spilled out and hit you.
I lost a loved one due to a sidewalk 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 fall on a sidewalk, 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 on the sidewalk 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?
No one expects to be the victim of a fall injury on a sidewalk. Most would expect both public and private sidewalks to be safe before they walk on them to reach their desired destination. The team here at Rosenblum law have unparalleled experience in the personal injury area, and will give you the best possible chance at justice. If you or a loved one has suffered an injury from a slip, trip, and/or fall injury on a sidewalk, and wish to pursue the compensation you deserve, 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.