Suing a Friend or Family Member for Injuries Caused by a Fall in New York
Suing a friend or family member for injuries caused by a fall in New York
An injury suffered at a friends house for a fall

People generally don’t even want to think about the prospect of suing. In general, no one wants to sue their family members or friends. Normally when small accidents happen close to home and heart, people resolve the issue internally, forgive, and then forget, as they value their relationships much more than recovering a small amount of money or benefits. However, sometimes a fall can lead to hefty medical bills, future medical complications, lost wages, and further pain and suffering. In this case, since apologies won’t pay the bills, legal action may be necessary. 

Why You Might Sue a Friend or Family Member for a Fall 

A fall almost always catches you off guard. No one expects that they may need to sue their family or friends for such an accident, but this is much more common than you might expect. Usually, these accidents happen in a residential setting where families have gathered for a social event, and the possibilities of how these injuries may occur are endless. 

Perhaps you slipped on a surface that had some sort of liquid on it, or perhaps you tripped over a misplaced object or mislaid brick in a walkway. You may not want to sue your friends or family, but mounting bills may put you in a position where you have no choice, especially if they don’t acknowledge any fault for your injury and/or refuse to help out financially. With the help of a 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.  

Many people are also reluctant to pursue compensation when they sustain an injury at a family member or friend’s property because they are scared to ruin the relationship they have with them. A simple apology may be enough for small incidents, however with more serious injuries, it may be an absolute necessity if medical expenses pile up, your own insurance coverage isn’t enough to pay all the bills, and/or your injury makes you unable to work, take care of children, or perform household chores. 

Here is a partial list of some serious (and costly) injuries that are caused by falls:

From the non-severe injuries, to the most severe, permanent injuries, and everything in between, you will want to consult an expert personal injury attorney to see what options you may have or compensation. An injury does not need to be serious for one to have a viable case. Moreover, an injury that seems minor, like a sore back, may turn out to be more serious down the road (herniated disc, for example). 

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What Can You Do to Pursue Compensation?

If you or someone you know was injured after a fall on a family member or friend’s property, and the accident was as a result of their negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Let’s look at the path to getting the money you will need to pay medical bills, cover lost wages, and offset any other expenses or damages you may have incurred.

Making an Insurance Claim

Unless both parties agree to a settlement right away, the first step injured people typically take is filing an insurance claim with the property owner’s insurance. Most homeowners insurance policies include liability coverage that covers expenses if someone is injured on their property due to their own negligence. Some of these insurance plans have partial coverage, which would result in the property owner having to cover some portion of the damages. One of the first steps your attorney will take is to check if those liable have insurance, as this might make this difficult process much simpler.

Filing an insurance claim may not always be the best option. When you file a claim with the party that you and your attorney find to be liable for your injury, you are telling their insurance company that their policyholder is at fault for causing your injury and that they should now pay you. The insurance company will then launch an investigation to determine who was really at fault, and whatever the results may be, how much compensation should be awarded or not awarded. The problem with this process is that the investigator will be the insurance company’s own employee, which means that they will almost always try to pay you the least amount possible. You will want the expertise of a highly skilled attorney to calculate how much compensation you really deserve, and then to negotiate with the insurance company on your behalf. 

Filing a Lawsuit

You always have the option to file a lawsuit, which you can do immediately or after you try to make an insurance claim and/or come to a settlement, as long as you are within the statute of limitations. Slip and fall accidents fall under civil law, where the claimant who is filing will be the “plaintiff” and the family member or friend who the claim is being brought against will be the “defendant.” As the plaintiff, you may ask the court to remedy you for your damages that come as a result of the defendant committing a legal wrong. In most slip and fall cases, the plaintiff usually asks the court to force the defendant to compensate the plaintiff for their losses.

A lawsuit can be a very complex and lengthy process, so you should definitely hire an attorney who is highly-skilled and truly dedicated in your best interest. If you go this route, your attorney will submit a formal complaint to the court which will clarify why the party being sued is a fault according to the law. The complaint that your attorney files will lay out why and how the defendant(s) were responsible for the fall, and how that fall led to your injuries. After these essential parts of your filing, there will be a request to the court asking the court to order the defendant(s) to compensate you for your damages. 

Sometimes you will have no choice but to file a lawsuit, and it may be a better option for you than settling with the insurance company prior to filing a lawsuit. Lawsuits have the potential to 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 court case, and therefore, have a much better chance of reaching unbiased decisions. Lawsuits also carry the potential of being very time consuming, and mentally and financially demanding, which is why you need an attorney.

Reaching a Settlement

Personal injury cases often end with a settlement. A settlement is when two or more parties decide to resolve a dispute outside of a court and privately, usually with attorneys from both sides negotiating and reaching a dollar amount that is acceptable to all parties. 

Settlements may come at any point of the process, similar to a lawsuit. This step does not always happen last, after an insurance claim or a lawsuit. A settlement can happen all on its own too, if the parties agree to resolve it that way. Generally, settlements are the most efficient way to resolve a slip and fall accident dispute, usually leaving both parties satisfied with the resolution.  

Premises Liability Law

The area of slip and fall accidents in personal injury law falls under the general area of “premises liability law.” Premises liability law will analyze whether an accident was reasonably foreseeable, if it was unavoidable, or anywhere in between. An example of a fall that was reasonably foreseeable would be if your family member has a get together for people and they have several hazards on their driveway such as huge cracks, mislaid bricks, and hazards on their stairs to the house. If these hazards had not been fixed and they were obvious, the homeowner knew about them, and did not put any signage or give verbal warnings to guests about these hazards, any injured parties may be eligible for compensation.

One gray area that can be very hard to prove is whether your family member or friend was aware of the hazard. Foreign substances (like spilled soda on a kitchen floor) make this hard to prove. Perhaps another guest knocked over a glass shortly before you entered the room so the party host was unaware of the hazard. Or, another guest’s car leaked slick oil onto the driveway shortly before you arrived. On the other hand, a defect on a property may be easier to prove if you can get an expert to testify explaining how the defect occurred and how long it was there without being fixed. 

Your Visitor Status Matters

There are different legal categories that are used to classify someone who is on another’s property. There are: 1) “business invitees” who are permitted on a property for any kind of business or commercial purpose, 2) “licensees” who are permitted on a property for social or other non-business matters, and 3) “trespassers” who are not permitted to be on a property. 

When you are visiting a family member or friend’s house for a social get together, you are considered a“licensee,” as long as you had permission to be on the property from the owner or party organizer. A property owner has a duty of care to any licensee on their property, to ensure that their property is free of any known hazards that could bring harm to permitted visitors. If there are known hazards on the property, the owner must make it known to any licensees so that they may avoid the hazards and potential injuries. 

The court in Wilder v. Ayers said that “the owner owes no greater duty than to avoid the maintenance of traps, hidden dangers, or wanton and reckless conduct to which the licensee may be exposed, unless the latter is first warned.” Aside from fixing maintenance issues, an owner can fulfill their obligation to a licensee by placing warning signage, or by notifying visitors verbally or in writing. If the social gathering was only meant for those who were invited, and you just showed up uninvited, you would not fall under the licensee category. Instead, you would be considered a trespasser.

If you are on a family or friend’s property and you do not have permission to be there, you are legally a trespasser. In this case, if you suffer injuries from a fall on a family member or friend’s property, even though you may know them well, you will likely not be entitled to compensation. A trespasser has few rights compared to a licensee. 

Are Parties Other Than a Landlord Responsible? 

Injuries at family reunions can have external factors to consider

There is always a possibility of third party involvement in your slip and fall accident. For example, your family member or friend may have hired a contractor to fix a hazardous issue or lay a new brick walkway, and they may not have done a good repair job or perhaps even created a new hazard. It might also be that your friend or family member lives in a property where many of the exterior responsibilities, such as snow and ice removal, are delegated to a homeowners’ association. Liability for your injury may be extended to these third parties. These factors can be thoroughly explored by a personal injury attorney, who will have the knowledge and expertise to identify and ensure all parties responsible are brought to justice.  

Comparative Negligence Laws in New York

New York mandates that if someone even has some fault for their own accident, that they will be held responsible for that portion of the award, meaning it will be subtracted from the total damages. This is called the “pure comparative negligence rule” in New York. For example, if a person is texting while walking and trips and falls over a hazard, a court may well find that that person is partially to blame for their own accident and resulting injuries. If you are being irresponsible at a family or friend’s social event, such as being intoxicated or reckless in other ways, the property owner will likely argue that you bear some or all of the responsibility for the accident that led to your injuries. 

These arguments, which are brought up against the injured party, are usually raised to get out of, or lower the amount of damages owed. Here are some claims that could be made against you:

  • You and all other guests were warned of hazards verbally or in writing (via text, email, etc.) 
  • The dangerous condition that caused your fall was open and obvious
  • You were distracted at the time of your accident
  • The area in which the accident took place was marked with signage or an object to indicate that it was unsafe
  • You were intoxicated at the time of your accident
  • Your behavior was reckless at the time of your accident
  • You trespassed in an area of the property that you were not allowed to go

Comparative negligence rule will cause a reduction in your compensation if your family member or friend is able to prove that your own action contributed to the accident. The pure comparative negligence rule will analyze the total award amount with the percentage of fault each party is responsible for, before ordering any compensation to be paid. For example, if the total damages from your injuries total $100,000 and the court finds that you are 40% responsible for the fall, then you will be awarded $60,000.   

How Do I Prove Fault?

Now that you know a lot about how the legal process works around a slip and fall accident at your family member or friend’s property, you are probably wondering how you can prove your case in the eyes of the law. In proving a personal injury case, you will have to prove the elements of your legal action, which will be proving negligence within premises liability law. If you can prove the following elements, your case will likely be successful:

  1. Your accident was caused by a hazardous condition on the property.
  2. Your friend or family member had reasonable knowledge of the hazardous condition beforehand.
  3. You didn’t know the hazardous condition existed and would not have reasonably discovered the hazard prior to your injury.
  4. Your friend or family member failed to warn you of the hazardous condition that they were aware of, and they did not fix it.

You will need to prove these elements to the best of your abilities, in accordance with the law. This can be a very complex process from the research phase, to strategically presenting persuasive arguments to the court of law. 

In the case of Schlaks v. Schlaks, the daughter-in-law of the claimant had waxed the living room floor in their home but had not buffed it because she became busy with an outdoor task. The father-in-law came downstairs, slipped and fell on the waxy floor, suffered permanent injuries, and as a result, brought a negligence lawsuit against both his son and his daughter-in-law. The court ruled in favor of the son and daughter-in-law, and against the father, because it said that a licensee cannot recover compensation for negligence when the host did not know that the condition posed an unreasonable risk. In this case, the daughter-in-law and the son did not know that the waxed floor was going to be a risk unless they buffed it. Since all four elements were not met, the proof from the claimant’s side was deemed insufficient by the court.  

Residential cases involving falls present unique challenges for gathering evidence. Common evidence for residential properties includes limited home camera systems such as Ring cameras, expert witness testimonies, and depositions (statements) from the party you are suing as well as others who had been on the property. After all of the evidence has been gathered, your attorney will formulate a strong legal argument, with the support of all of the evidence, to argue your claim in front of the court. 

Common Causes of Slip and Fall Accidents in New York

New York has a wide variety of residential properties that all pose different challenges for maintenance, safety, and hazard prevention. Your family or friends may live in apartments, condominiums, or houses that they own. Whatever your case is, if you have been injured due to their negligence, you may need to take legal action to cover your expenses. Let’s look at some common causes of slip and fall injuries in New York’s residential properties:

  • Ongoing construction inside/outside the property
  • Damaged and/or defective walkways
  • Unsecured cords or cables
  • Insufficient lighting on a walkway or stairway
  • No signage warning you of hazards
  • Lack of weather maintenance on a walkway or stairway
  • Failure to fix leaks
  • Lack of stairway or platform maintenance
  • Failure to repair damaged walls/ceilings
  • Falling debris
  • Missing or damaged handrails
  • Loose floor tiles

Related Facts and Statistics

Nationally, falls, slips, and trips contributed to 880 deaths in 2019, an increase of 11 percent over the prior year. 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, slips, trips, and falls simply cannot be ignored because they are far too common. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What if I fall at my family member or friend’s home but they rent or lease?

If you fall inside of their residence, and the fault was theirs due to a factor that was out of the actual landlord’s hands, then your family member or friend would likely be held responsible. There are many possibilities involved in this type of scenario, however. If you slip and fall at an apartment complex, and it is on the property but not in your friend or family’s residence, then you may have a case against the property owner if you had permission to be on the property in the first place. You will be categorized as a business invitee of the landlord. If there are limits on how many guests are allowed on a property per resident, you might be considered a trespasser. For example, if the landlord only allows 2 guests per unit at an apartment building, and there are already that many guests there when you show up, you will automatically be a “trespasser.” 

Is pursuing compensation for my injury worth risking my relationship with family members or friends?

This comes down to an analysis of several factors. If you can afford to take the hit on all of your medical costs, lost wages, and future implications tied to your injury, then that may be the road you go down. However, most people cannot afford to pay out of pocket for all of the damages so pursuing compensation is the right solution. 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. 

Could I sue a family member or friend if the accident did not occur on their own property?

Maybe. This depends on whether they were responsible for your slip and fall accident even though it was not on their property. If a family member or friend intentionally caused your injury, or were partly responsible for causing the accident, you may still be entitled to pursue compensation from them. 

What if a slip and fall injury involving a friend or family member results in death?

ompared 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.

Who Should You Contact?

People would never expect to injure themselves while visiting a family member or friend’s residence. But, when your family or friends are negligent in making sure their property is safe for you to visit, and you suffer from injuries due to their negligence, there can be serious consequences. If you want to secure the best possible settlement that you deserve, you will need the support of the highly-skilled, determined, and caring team here at Rosenblum Law. We offer unparalleled experience and attention to our clients’ needs. Don’t hesitate to take the first step on your road to recovery by emailing or calling 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.  

Other Resources

What Is Premises Liability?

Why You Should See a Doctor After a Fall

New York State Department of Health Specific Statistics for Fall Injuries

Slip and Fall Quick Facts

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