For most of us, a wet floor sign is a common sight. As soon as a spill occurs in your local supermarket or restaurant, you can expect to see employees hurrying to clear the mess and put up that famous yellow sign. Why do they do this? Of course, most establishments probably care somewhat about the safety of their customers. But really, there is an even stronger motivator at play: lawsuits.
And when the owners or caretakers of the property where the victim fell are to blame, they face legal trouble which might end with them having to foot the bill. While this is bad news for property owners, it is a welcome path to justice for you, the injured person. With the help of a capable personal injury attorney, you may be able to get compensation for things like medical bills and lost wages.
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Fundamentals of a Personal Injury Lawsuit
To recover compensation for your injuries, you will most likely need to file a personal injury lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit is when someone injured in an accident complains to a court that someone else caused their accident and should therefore be forced to pay them for their accident-related injuries and expenses. Once you initiate your claim, a court will hear both sides of the story. Then, a judge or jury will decide whether whoever you sued is at fault for your accident. If they are, then they will be ordered to pay you.
To make a successful personal injury claim, there are two fundamental things you need to know:
- Who to sue, and
- The best legal argument for why they are responsible
You need to know who to sue because you can’t file a lawsuit without naming who you are suing. Who you will sue will depend on who can be held legally responsible for your accident. Once you know who to sue, you will of course need to convince the court that this person or entity is legally responsible; this is where your legal argument comes into play. In order to make a strong legal argument, you will first need to understand the liability rules involved. Let’s look at each concept more closely.
Who Can You Sue for Your Fall?
When you slip and fall on a wet floor, your accident is considered the result of a dangerous condition on the property where you fell. When an accident happens because of a dangerous condition found on a property, the law says the person or entity in charge of keeping that property safe may be held legally responsible if they knew or should have known about the condition causing your accident. So, the person or entity you can sue for your slip and fall accident will be whoever was responsible for keeping the property where you fell safe.
This means who you can sue will depend on the circumstances of your accident. A fall on a wet floor can happen almost anywhere. Some common places include:
And many different types of people and entities can be responsible for the safety of a given property. To name just a handful:
- Commercial landlords
- Commercial property lessees
- Store owners
- Residential property owners
- Public entities
- Third-party maintenance companies
Because there are so many possibilities, it can be challenging to figure out exactly who is responsible for the safety of the property where you fell. For example, imagine you slip and fall in the parking lot of a grocery store. Let’s run through some of the potential suspects for liability:
- Store owner: Perhaps the grocery store owns and operates the parking lot, making them responsible for its safety.
- Commercial landlord: Maybe the grocery store only leases the building, and their lease states the commercial owner of the building is responsible for the parking lot’s safety.
- Commercial owner of parking lot: Maybe someone else entirely owns the parking lot where you fell, making them responsible for its safety.
- Third-party maintenance company: It could be that whoever owns and operates the parking lot hired a third-party maintenance company, and the contract between the two might state that the maintenance company is liable if anyone is injured on the lot.
- Public entity: Maybe the city owns the parking lot, so they should be held responsible for its safety.
As you can see, things can get complicated rather quickly. To figure out who can be held responsible for your accident, you will need a qualified personal injury attorney to consider the exact circumstances of your case and investigate to determine who was responsible for the safety of the property where you fell.
When Is Someone Responsible for Your Slip and Fall Accident?
The liability rule at play when someone falls on a wet floor is known as “premises liability.” Premises liability deals with the duty landowners or others responsible for a property owe to the people who are invited onto the property. Those responsible are legally required to maintain the safety of the property, or else, they risk being held liable when someone is injured on the premises. Here is the rule for when these caretakers are liable in the eyes of the law:
A landowner (or other party responsible for the safety of a property) is liable when someone lawfully on the property is injured by a dangerous condition of the property that the landowner either created or had notice of and failed to address.
To prove a case of premises liability for your accident, four elements must be proven:
- You were lawfully on the property.
- You were injured by a dangerous condition of the property.
- The landowner either created the dangerous condition or had notice of it.
- The landowner failed to address the dangerous condition.
This rule has many moving parts. Let’s take a closer look at each element.
- You were lawfully on the property.
Landowners and other caretakers of a property are generally required to keep the property safe only for those people who are on the property with permission. Trespassers don’t usually have much of a legal ‘leg to stand on’ when they are injured on a property.
- You were injured by a dangerous condition of the property.
This is important. To hold a landowner or other caretaker of a property responsible for your accident, it has to be true that your accident was caused by a dangerous condition on the property. If you slip because you are wearing soccer cleats in the produce section of your local grocery store, you probably don’t have much of a right to recover compensation.
- The landowner either created the dangerous condition or had notice of it.
The purpose of this element is to make sure the landowner had a fair chance to know that the dangerous condition existed. It would be unfair to make a landowner responsible if they had no realistic way of knowing that their property was unsafe. There are three ways this can be established:
- If they created the dangerous condition. For example, if a grocery store employee spills a half-gallon of milk, the employee (an agent of the store) knows the floor is wet.
- If they had “actual notice” of the dangerous condition. This simply means that they were notified of a dangerous condition. For instance, if a shopper reports the spilled milk to an employee, the store knows the floor is wet.
- If they had “constructive notice” of the dangerous condition. This means they should have known of the dangerous condition. The usual standard is whether or not the dangerous condition was “open and obvious” and “existed for long enough to allow the landowner to discover it.” For example, if the milk is spilled in the middle of an aisle and it sat there for two hours, it’s fair to say that the grocery store should have addressed it.
- The landowner failed to address the dangerous condition. A landowner doesn’t need to completely resolve a dangerous condition and prevent all foreseeable accidents to avoid being held liable. The law merely requires that a landowner must take “reasonable” steps to address a dangerous condition. This can mean remedying the condition, like mopping up a puddle of water. It can also mean warning of a dangerous condition, such as putting up a wet floor sign.
The landowner also has a “reasonable” amount of time to address a dangerous condition. For example, in the case of Bernhard v. Bank of Montreal, Mr. Bernhard slipped and fell on a rainy day in a bank lobby that had been mopped just seven minutes before but had been made wet again by customers’ umbrellas. The court found the bank was not liable because they had not had enough of an opportunity to address the dangerous condition.
An Important Exception
While landowners are generally required to address dangerous conditions on their property that they are aware of, there is an important exception: when the dangerous condition is so obvious that the injured victim should or could have noticed it themself. This is a defense that landowners often use to avoid liability for accidents. A great example is the real-life case Michel v. PetSmart, Inc. Mrs. Michel sued Petsmart when she slipped and fell on a puddle of dog urine. Michel claimed that she first slipped on one leg in the dog urine, which was actually a mixture of dog urine and an ammonia cleaning solution, and then slipped over the wet floor sign that was laying on the ground with her other leg as she tried to stop herself from falling. PetSmart asked the court to dismiss Michel’s case because the collapsed wet floor sign was so obvious that Michel should have noticed it and avoided falling. The court acknowledged that a landowner might not be liable if the dangerous condition is very open and obvious so that the injured victim should have noticed it. But the court ultimately sided with Michel, deciding that the collapsed sign wasn’t obvious enough to justify dismissing MIchel’s case.
How to Prove Fault
To win your personal injury case, you will need to prove to a court that whoever you are suing is to blame for your accident, but the process of proving fault begins long before your attorney steps foot in the courtroom. There are three critical stages:
- Determining who can be held responsible
- Building your claim
- Proving your claim
1. Determining Who Can Be Held Responsible
The first step is to figure out who can be held legally responsible for your accident. Remember that this means figuring out who is responsible for the safety of the property where you fell. This will require an extensive investigation. At Rosenblum Law, this investigation typically involves diving into any relevant documentation, such as contracts and leases. We will also investigate the day-to-day operation of the property. This is because sometimes the person responsible for the safety of a property is not written in a document but is decided by who actually takes on this responsibility in real life. Often, this stage of the investigation also calls for speaking with potential witnesses or responsible parties directly.
2. Building Your Claim
Once you know who should be held responsible, you need to build a strong legal claim. Remember that the legal claim for a wet floor slip and fall accident is a premises liability claim. Your legal claim for your accident is made up of the four elements of premises liability we discussed previously and the evidence in support of those elements.
At this stage of the investigation, your focus is gathering evidence to prove each element. There are many sources of evidence we look to, including:
- Interviewing witnesses, both shoppers and store employees;
- Reviewing store surveillance footage;
- Examining maintenance records and documentation of accident;
- Consulting expert witnesses; and
- Deposing (interviewing under oath) responsible parties.
3. Proving Your Claim
The final step is to actually prove your claim in a court of law. This is another area where we work to improve our clients’ chances of success. Our attorneys, with their many years of courtroom experience, expertly present the evidence of the case in the most convincing light possible. In support of our clients’ cases, we call eye-witnesses, present expert witness testimony, and display any and all relevant evidence. We also cross-examine the other party’s witnesses to cast doubt on their defense.
Can You Recover Compensation Without Filing a Lawsuit?
Making an insurance claim is available to you whenever the person or entity responsible for the safety of the property where you fell has liability insurance covering accidents that occur on their property. Typically, this path to compensation is pursued prior to filing a lawsuit. Many times, a claim is denied or the settlement amount offered is too low, so people will then seek justice in the court system.
What Is an Insurance Claim?
An insurance claim is a claim you file with the insurance company of whoever is to blame for your accident. Your claim will state that the insurance company’s policyholder is legally at fault for having caused the accident resulting in your personal injuries, and that the insurance company is therefore responsible for compensating you for your losses.
How Does the Insurance Claims Process Work?
Once you file an insurance claim, the insurance company will want to investigate. They do this by assigning one of their employees, also known as a claims adjuster, to your case. The adjuster will investigate your claim and determine whether the insurance company’s policy holder is legally to blame for your accident. If they are, then the adjuster will determine how much the insurance company, at a minimum, must pay you. If the adjuster finds against you, however, then your claim will fail and you will not be compensated at all.
How Does an Insurance Claim Compare to a Lawsuit?
In many respects, an insurance claim is very similar to a lawsuit. Both involve similar claims for compensation, and for both, the decision maker determines fault using the same liability rules. But these two paths to compensation also differ in significant ways. The two most notable differences are:
- A lawsuit requires the injured claimant to take on more responsibility than an insurance claim does.
- A lawsuit is more fair than an insurance claim.
A lawsuit requires more work than an insurance claim.
One upside of the insurance claims process is that it doesn’t require too much work for the person who was injured. This is because the adjuster takes full responsibility for investigating the claim and making a decision. Compare this with a lawsuit, where the victim has to investigate their own claim and prove their case before a court. Of course, if represented by a law firm, all of this work will be handled by an attorney.
A lawsuit is more fair.
The insurance claims process has a fatal flaw: the insurance adjuster has an inherent conflict of interest. Therein lies the problem. The person investigating and deciding your case for an insurance claim is the adjuster. The adjuster is an employee of the insurance company. The insurance company is who will be responsible for compensating you if the adjuster finds in your favor. The insurance company doesn’t want to pay you if they can help it. Compare this with a lawsuit, where your case is in the hands of a judge or jury who don’t have a personal stake in the outcome of your case.
How You Can Settle Your Case
Most personal injury cases end with a settlement. A settlement is when two people in a legal battle agree to end their case on their own terms, before a court decides the matter. The basic agreement is that the at-fault party will compensate the injured claimant, and the injured claimant will forever drop their personal injury claim. A settlement is attractive because it is more efficient. Lawsuits and the insurance claims process are time-consuming and expensive, especially when they are dragged out. When it makes sense to do so, settling can be the best solution for both sides.
How to Settle
While statistically a vast majority of personal injury cases settle, this does not mean you are guaranteed to win a settlement. To achieve a fair settlement, you will need an experienced personal injury attorney to help you build a strong claim for compensation. This is because a strong claim for compensation is key to getting the other party to settle. Let’s take a moment to consider why.
An at-fault party (or their insurance company), generally will only agree to settle if they come to believe they are unlikely to win if the case goes to court. Likewise, the insurance claims process can be time-consuming and frustrating the longer it takes to resolve. So, it is actually cheaper for an at-fault party to settle and compensate the injured person early on if they are likely to lose anyway. If you are dealing with an insurance company, they are looking at the strength of your case (clear liability and injury) and the stronger that is, the higher the likelihood a settlement offer will be made.
On the other hand, if an at-fault party or their insurer thinks they have a good chance of winning their case if it is decided by a jury, settling is not likely to occur. By settling they would end up compensating the injured party when it may be very possible that they wouldn’t have had to at all. That’s why the goal is to build as strong of a claim as possible–not only to convince the at-fault party or their insurer, but also to prove that they are likely to lose the case, making a settlement the best option.
Making Sure Your Settlement Is Fair
In addition to convincing the other party to settle, your attorney may also ensure the amount you settle for is fair. When you settle, there is no fixed guideline for the amount you and the other party must agree to. Settlement amounts are generally determined by what similar cases and injuries have either settled for or what the award amount was after a trial, but there is no hard and fast rule for how much someone may get. Furthermore, the at-fault party will almost never just offer an amount you would want to take at first. They will likely give some small nominal amount, but in doing this, they open the floor for negotiation. An experienced attorney will use their knowledge of what these cases usually settle for, and their negotiating skills, to ensure you end up with a fair settlement amount.
Is Settling Worth It?
Settling is absolutely worth it as long as you have an attorney who can make sure you aren’t being cheated out of money you are rightfully owed. First, you are guaranteed compensation when you settle. When your case goes to a trial,there is always a possibility you could walk out with nothing unfortunately, even if you believe you have the stronger claim. Settling avoids that risk. Second, you are compensated much sooner when you settle because you don’t need to go through the entire judicial process which could take years.
How Dangerous Is a Fall on a Wet Floor?
A slip and fall accident on a wet floor can be incredibly dangerous. This is true for a couple reasons. First, these accidents commonly involve falling on hard ground. When you fall on hard ground, you risk serious injuries from the impact. Second, when you unexpectedly slip on a wet floor, you are usually falling at a fast rate and without advance warning. This means your body has little time to brace itself before making impact with the ground.
In a slip and fall, you may find that you suffer from injuries, such as:
- Traumatic Brain Injury
- Spinal Cord Injury
- Back Injury
- Shoulder or Neck Injury
- Broken Bones/Fractures
- Severe Sprains
While these injuries caused by a slip and fall are severe, you may still be able to recover compensation with far less serious injuries. It’s also important to stress that though your injuries may seem minor, they can certainly become more serious in the future. For example, a sore back immediately after your accident could develop into a herniated disk in a matter of months.
Accident Statistics for Falls
The statistics on slip and fall accidents are staggering. The National Fall Safety Institute reports that each year, America’s hospital emergency rooms see a staggering eight million cases involving victims of falls. Over one million of these are slip and fall accidents. Additionally, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (hereinafter “CDC”) claims “[o]ne out of five falls causes a serious injury such as broken bones or a head injury” and “[o]ver 800,000 patients a year are hospitalized because of a fall injury, most often because of a head injury or hip fracture.” The CDC goes on to give some clue as to the cost of these injuries, citing total medical costs for falls in 2015 at $50 billion.
Frequently Asked Questions
What if my loved one died because of a wet floor slip and fall accident?
If your loved one died after falling on a wet surface, you may be entitled to compensation. Instead of a personal injury lawsuit, your loved one’s estate will need to file a wrongful death lawsuit. This is very similar to a personal injury lawsuit, but it is designed for cases where the injured victim died as a result of their accident. If the wrongful death lawsuit is successful, any compensation won will be distributed among eligible family members. You should talk to an attorney about the specifics of your case.
What if I slip and fall on a wet floor while I’m at work?
If you slip and fall while you are working, you may be eligible for worker’s compensation benefits. This is when your employer carries an insurance policy that compensates workers who are injured on the job. To get these benefits, you will most likely need to hire an attorney to fight your case. If you aren’t eligible for worker’s compensation, you may still be able to make a personal injury claim. These cases are complicated, so you should have an attorney examine your exact circumstances and inform you of your options.
Are slip and fall cases hard to prove?
How hard it is to prove your case depends on the circumstances of your accident. These cases are certainly complicated enough that you will need to hire an attorney. The hardest part of proving a slip and fall claim is usually proving that whoever you are suing knew or should have known that the dangerous condition that caused your accident existed. With the right legal representation, you should be able to bring a solid claim for compensation.
What should you do after you slip and fall on a wet floor?
Your first priority after a slip and fall accident should be to seek medical care immediately. Slip and fall accidents can cause serious injuries. Symptoms are sometimes delayed, so it’s best to see a doctor soon after a fall. It is also helpful to get some documentation of your accident. This can include taking pictures of the scene of the accident and pictures of your injuries. It can also mean filling out an accident report form if you fell in a store or other business. Then, you should consult a personal injury attorney as soon as possible.
What if I was to blame for my own slip and fall accident?
Most of the time, an accident is caused by many things, meaning one person is not 100% to blame. The law accounts for this with a concept known as “comparative fault.” This means a court or insurance claims adjuster can account for the victim’s fault when deciding their claim for compensation. If you, the victim, carry any blame in your accident, you will be assigned a percentage of blame, and the amount of money that is awarded to you will be reduced by that amount. So, if you are awarded $100,000 but the court says you were 50% to blame for your accident, you will only be compensated 50% of that amount, which is $50,000. New York follows a pure comparative fault model, which means you can recover compensation as long as you were not 100% to blame for your accident.
Can a public entity be sued for a slip and fall accident?
Yes. Sometimes public entities are responsible for the safety of the premises where the victim fell. Suing a public entity is slightly different from suing a private entity or private citizen. Most New York municipalities have adopted a rule saying they are only responsible for a dangerous condition if they had prior written notice of the condition at least 15 days before the accident or if they acknowledged the condition in writing 15 days before the accident. An exception to this rule is when the public entity created the dangerous condition.
Can you sue if you slip and fall on a wet floor at someone’s house?
Yes, but the rules might be slightly different. It will all depend on what kind of guest you are. There are different classifications for the type of guest you are on someone’s property, but so long as you are there lawfully (and not a trespasser), you may have a right to recover depending on the circumstances. An attorney can help you figure out the liability rules that apply and determine whether you have a viable claim.
Do businesses have to use a wet floor sign?
No. A wet floor sign is a common way for businesses to warn their guests of a wet floor, which is a dangerous condition of the property, but this doesn’t mean businesses absolutely have to use the wet floor sign. Businesses are only required to address and warn of dangerous conditions that they knew of or should have known of. How they address these conditions is up to them.
What if it is raining when I fall?
You can still recover compensation if you fall in a business on a rainy day. The fact that it was raining will only really affect what the law expects of the landowner. A landowner is required to take reasonable steps to address dangerous conditions on the property that they know of. What is reasonable might change slightly when a rainstorm is ongoing. For example, you might walk into Target, and the floor might be soaking wet. But employees may have just mopped five minutes earlier, with the floor being wet again by incoming customers. The law won’t usually expect the store to mop continuously; they only need to do what is reasonable. Your attorney can assess the facts of your case and give a more clear answer on the strength of your claim.
Who Should You Contact?
If you or a loved one have been injured in a fall on a wet floor, your next move is to contact Rosenblum Law. Our reputation as a premier personal injury law firm has been earned through our tireless advocacy for our injured clients. We boast virtually limitless resources and knowledgeable, experienced attorneys who have on countless occasions helped slip and fall accident victims achieve the compensation they are justly owed. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.