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Premises Liability: Slip and Fall Accidents
There are thousands of people each year who are injured because of an area of personal injury known as “slip and falls.” In fact, falls are the number one cause of traumatic brain injuries (TBI) in the United States. Most injuries classified as slip and fall injuries occur when someone slips on a wet floor, they tumble down a defective staircase, or maybe they trip on uneven concrete in a parking lot. Whatever the reason is, when a visitor to another’s property slips and falls on someone else’s property and is injured, he or she may be able to bring a premises liability lawsuit against the property owner/entity to recover damages.
In Utah, whether the visitor can recover will depend on the visitor’s classification on the property and on whether the property owner/entity used reasonable care to prevent slips and falls on the property. For more information on Premises Liability and the separate classifications of visitors, see our article “What is Premises Liability.”
Generally, property owners/entities owe a legal duty to use reasonable care to maintain their property in a reasonably safe manner. This duty is usually owed to those on the property lawfully, such as customers, party guests, or others who have been invited. There is also a requirement for the property owner to regularly check their property for dangerous safety issues and for uneven surfaces. How often will depend on the property and what is objectively reasonable. For example, a grocery store will need to inspect their wet produce section more often than a homeowner. However, in many states the duty does not extend to trespassers, although there are certain exceptions when the owner is aware of the trespassers, or it involves children or an artificial conditions on the property.
In Utah, for an owner/entity to be held liable for a slip and fall premises liability lawsuit, the victim (called a plaintiff in a lawsuit) will have to show that the owner/entity was negligent. Whether the owner/entity is found negligent will depend on the type of defect or dangerous condition and whether the owner had actual or constructive notice of the defect, spill, or hazardous surface. For example, if the owner of a grocery store is aware that there is a spill of juice on aisle three of their grocery store, but doesn’t clean it up, and a customer slips on the juice and injures their back, the grocery store owner will be liable for the slip and fall because they had actual notice of the unsafe condition. Actual notice is just like it sounds, the owner had actual notice, and didn’t clean up the floor, or fix the uneven surface, or remove the hazardous condition.
But what if the owner (or his agents, the store employees) didn’t know about the spill? Then the court will look to whether the grocery store “should have known” of the spill. In this situation to determine liability, a variety of factors will be analyzed, including, past accidents at the grocery store, how long the floor was wet, how often a grocery store should inspect its floors, how are spills observed by employees, was this a high traffic area of the grocery store, the store cleaning schedule, was the store being cleaned, was there wet floor warning signs, whether there was proper lighting, etc. Then the courts will analyze all of those facts and determine whether the grocery store was objectively reasonable in their inspection. If the store was, then the store will not be held liable for the victim’s injuries. However, if they weren’t objectively reasonable, then the Court will find that the grocery store “should have known,” of the spill, and can be found liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.
Another way an owner can be liable in Utah is when the owner created the condition. For example, if an employee spilled something on a floor, or the owner poured uneven concrete, or the owner broke a freezer which melted ice and leaked water on the floor. In these cases, the owner is not required to have actual or constructive notice because they created the condition that harmed someone. In these cases, the owner is liable to the victim for their injuries.
It can be difficult to determine some of the above factors without talking to witnesses or having video surveillance of the event. After an injury, you should try to get the name and contact information of anyone who witnesses your slip and fall injury. This is one of the main reasons it is important to consult with an experienced slip and fall attorney as soon as possible because we have knowledge in what evidence to gather and can get it quickly. We Win Injury Law also can hire private investigators to assist in gathering evidence from the store or take statements from witnesses who may have seen the injury as it occurred. We Win Injury Law can also file a lawsuit and request certain documents directly from the owner/entity.
When You Might Not Recover For Your Injuries
Additionally, Courts also know that not every slip and fall will result in liability for an owner. Simply put, an owner is nor responsible to prevent every accident on their property. For example, an apartment complex owner is cannot control the weather and if ice is forming on a sidewalk, if someone slips before they can put salt down, the owner likely won’t be liable. Another example is if someone simply falls on normal stairs because they weren’t holding onto a handrail, the pure fact that they are on another’s property does not subject the property owner to liability. All visitors are required to use “reasonable care” which means they watch where they are going to avoid being injured.
Property owners, and their insurance companies, will often place the blame on the victim, complaining that the victim was not using reasonable care, or that they assumed the risk. For example, a skier at a ski resort assumes the risk that they might be injured because injuries while skiing are a known risk. However, certainly if the ski resort dug a large hole in the middle of the ski resort, and failed to warn skiers, then certainly the ski resort could be held liable for failure to warn of the large hole they created.
Lastly, if you are in a place you should not be, even if you aren’t classified as a trespasser, you may not be able to recover. For example, if you walk passed the area for customers at a restaurant and go into a kitchen, and burn yourself on hot oil, you likely won’t be able to recover because you weren’t where you were supposed to be. Likewise if you left a concrete path to cut through the landscaping of a business, and you trip on a plant and are injured, you likely won’t be able to recover because you went somewhere you weren’t supposed to, even though it wasn’t trespassing.
If you or someone you know has been injured by a slip and fall on the property of another, even if you were trespassing, you should consult with one the personal injury attorneys at We Win Injury Law. We can advise you on your rights and whether or not you will be able to recover from the property owner for your recovery. Remember, the consultations are always free, and we don’t collect any fees unless We Win.