What is a “slip & fall” accident?
What are the common causes of “slip & fall” accidents?
Is the owner of the business of other premises legally responsible for injuries sustained in a “slip & fall” accident?
What are the defenses that I can expect will be raised against me in my claim based upon a fall on someone’s else’s premises?
What should I do after a fall to protect my rights?
Q. What is a "slip & fall" accident?
A. “Slip and fall” accidents can range from falling in a store due to an unknown liquid, stepping in a pothole in a parking lot, falling through a rotten piece of wood on a deck, and/or tripping over a curled up rug the landowner knew to be dangerous. The phrase has been used to include just about any fall that occurs on someone else's premises. In this broader context, it would include a "trip & fall" or a misstep and fall. A more accurate term to describe all of the accidents that result from falls on premises would probably be premises liability claims.
Q. What are the common causes of "slip & fall" or “premises liability” accidents?
A. It can occur when a liquid or other material is on the floor surface. Another possibility is a small mat or rug that easily slides on the floor surface when walked upon.
“Slip & falls" can be caused by any small or low object that extends into a walking area, an unmarked step-up, a poor match of surface heights where carpet joins tile, or an open carpet seam. Any situation that would allow a foot to even momentarily "catch" can throw a person off balance and cause a fall.
It should also be noted that the absence of proper handrails accounts for a significant number of falls, especially in busy malls or other shopping facilities. Handrails are not only important for support and stability ascending and descending stairs, but they provide critical visual clues that a stairway is ahead. The average person perceives a stairway more readily when there is an adjacent handrail to catch his attention.
Q. Is the owner of the business or other premises legally responsible for injuries sustained in "slip & fall" or "fall down" accidents?
A. South Carolina recognizes four general classifications of persons who come on premises: adult trespassers, invitees, licensees, and children. Different standards of care apply depending on whether the visitor is considered an invitee, i.e., an invited (express or implied) business guest; a licensee, i.e., a person not invited, but whose presence is suffered; a trespasser, i.e., a person whose presence is neither invited nor suffered; or a child. In premises liability cases, the invitee is offered the utmost duty of care by the landowner and a trespasser is generally offered the least.
A good general statement that covers most falls would be that it is the duty of an owner to exercise reasonable care in the maintenance of the premises and to warn a visitor of any dangerous conditions that are known, or should be known to him, if the conditions are not likely to be perceived by the visitor.
In South Carolina to recover damages for injuries caused by a dangerous or defective condition on a storekeeper’s premises, the plaintiff must show either (1) that the injury was caused by the specific act of the defendant which created the dangerous condition; or (2) that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge (knew or should have known) of the dangerous condition and failed to remedy it. In the case of a foreign substance, the plaintiff must demonstrate either that the substance was placed there by the defendant or its agents, or that the defendant had actual or constructive notice the substance was on the floor at the time of the slip and fall.
Q. What are the defenses that I can expect will be raised against me in my claim based upon a fall on someone else's premises?
A. One of the most common defenses is to deny the existence of any dangerous condition on the premises or to deny having timely knowledge of its existence. It goes something like this: There was no clear liquid on the floor in aisle five and, even if there were a clear liquid on the floor, we did not know about it in time to take any action. Or, it could be: “We had just performed a safety sweep in that area and seen nothing”.
Another common defense is to argue that you were careless or negligent in failing to observe the dangerous condition (the spill, the loose carpet, the stepdown, for example) and, as a result, should either have all compensation denied or reduced substantially. This defense is interesting if thought is given to how much effort is made to keep the business visitor looking at hundreds, if not thousands, of products, signs, displays, and images instead of at the floor.
Still another common defense is to maintain that the fall did not cause you any new injuries nor aggravate any pre-existing conditions or diseases.
It’s important that you discuss your options with a knowledgeable attorney.
Q. What should I do after a fall to protect my rights?
A. Due to a "slip & fall" accident occurring on the property of the potential defendant and you are usually assisted after the fall by the owner or their employees it is sometimes difficult to take the steps that would be prudent from a legal standpoint. It is a rare victim who requests the names of witnesses, the names of store employees, or to have a copy of any report completed about the fall. It is likewise rare that a victim thinks about getting photographs of the scene and any dangerous condition. You and every other injured person are probably focused on your potential injuries and just getting the humiliation of the moment behind you.
As a result, most victims are questioned by the helping employees of the potential defendant and essentially hustled off the premises without really establishing any facts or gathering information that would be helpful in a later claim.
For all of these reasons, probably the most logical step to take if a fall has produced an injury significant to you would be to contact an experienced personal injury attorney as soon as possible. He or she will be able to commence an investigation that has a reasonable chance of developing the supporting evidence and testimony that would be necessary to process a claim on your behalf.
Do not grant interviews or give statements about the accident or your injuries without consulting with an attorney. Insurance representatives of the potential defendant owner are trained to be extremely pleasant, but their mission is to gather information to defeat or minimize your potential claim. They know that a statement taken from an unrepresented person who has experienced a fall is likely to provide some benefit to them. They are extremely well versed in the legal principles involved and the defenses at their disposal.
Do not endorse any check or sign any release without consulting an attorney. Doing so may seriously impair your legal rights. On the other hand, there are types of insurance coverage that may provide some early payment toward your medical expenses (medical payments coverage, for example) that may require your endorsement of a check. After an experienced personal injury attorney has reviewed the check and related matters it may be safe for you to accept the reimbursement without compromising your later claim against the premises owner. Attorneys traditionally do not charge any fee or percentage based upon the processing of a medical payments coverage matter.