NC Slip and Fall cases fall under the subset of the law of negligence called premises liability. Under premises liability the plaintiff attempts to hold the owner of the property responsible for the incidents which occur on their property. As pointed out in previous articles on premises liability the NC courts have held that property owners are not considered “insures” for all incidents. There must be some negligence on the part of the landowner which makes them responsible for the fall and resulting injury. Absent negligence, your slip and fall claim will be unsuccessful.
There is a lot of confusion both in the public and many in the legal community regarding what constitutes a legitimate claim for a slip and fall. What follows is an attempt by our Charlotte personal injury attorney to clear up any confusion by taking a look at the law in NC, and how it has been applied to common fact patterns.
Land Owners Duty
A landowner’s duty is set forth clearly in Lorinovich v. K Mart Corp., 134 N.C.App. 158, 162, 516 S.E.2d 643, 646 (1999)(Review denied 351 N.C. 107, 541 S.E.2d 148 (1999):
Plaintiff was a lawful visitor on Defendant’s premises and thus Defendant owed her a duty to exercise reasonable care to provide for her safety. This required Defendant to take reasonable precautions to ascertain the condition of the property and to either make it reasonably safe or give warnings as may be reasonably necessary to inform the invitee of any foreseeable danger… As a general proposition, there is no duty to protect a lawful visitor against dangers which are either known to him or so obvious and apparent that they reasonably may be expected to be discovered.
OPEN AND OBVIOUS
Barber v. Presbyterian Hospital 147 N.C.App. 86, 555 S.E.2d 303 (2001)
In Barber, Plaintiff was in Defendant’s hospital and while looking for the coffee shop encountered a door which contained a drop down immediately on the other side. Plaintiff opened the door stepped through and fell, resulting in injury. The Mecklenberg County Superior Court granted Defendant’s motion for directed verdict. The Court of Appeals reversed holding that questions as to whether hospital was negligent and visitor was contributory negligent were to be answered by the jury.
The Court stated that “case law has interpreted reasonable care to mean that a landowner must not unnecessarily expose a lawful visitor to danger, and the landowner must also give warning of hidden conditions and dangers of which the landowner has express or implied notice.” Id. 147 N.C.App. 86, 89, 555 S.E.2d 303, 306 N.C.App. (2001) (citing Norwood v. Sherwin-Williams Co., 303 N.C. 462, 467 297 279 S.E.2d 559, 562 (1981).
The Court pointed out that the door obstructed Plaintiff’s view of the step down. The Court, after analyzing Garner v. Greyhound Corp, stated at 147 N.C.App. 86, 92, 555 S.E.2d 303, 308 (2001):
We agree with our Supreme Court that the use of steps is negligent only when by the steps’ character, location or surrounding conditions, a reasonably prudent person would not be likely to see the step or expect it. Harrison v. Willaims, 260 N.C. 392, 395, 132 S.E.2d 869 (1963). Because the step-down in this case was visible only after the door was opened, we hold that plaintiff’s evidence is sufficient to present a jury question regarding whether defendant was negligent. Thus, the trial court’s grant of a directed verdict to defendant was improper and is hereby reversed.
Many times defense attorneys relay on cases which have come down against slip and falls including Garner, Frendlich and Stoltz The Court in Frendlich at 64 NC App 332, 337, 307 S.E.2d 412, 415, notes in its holding that:
Here, plaintiff’s deposition testimony negates any contention that the bags obstructed her view. Mrs. Frendlich testified that she was looking straight ahead with her attention focused on the open car door when she fell. She stated that she fell because she did not anticipate a second step. She specifically looked for and safely negotiated the first step. Defendant did nothing to divert her attention. Indeed, her husband and family were the ones who had diverted her attention. There was no allegation or evidence that the bags of groceries prevented her from seeing the second step down, which was actually a street curb in plain view in broad daylight. If anything, Mrs. Frendlich’s testimony shows that she was contributorily negligent. [Bold added]
The Court in Stoltz at 69 N.C. App 231, 236, 316 S.E.2d 646, 649, notes that:
In the case sub judice, Stoltz had a full and unobstructed view of the sidewalk “step” during broad daylight. She used the same sidewalk to enter and exit the shopping center, even though she entered a few feet from where she exited. In leaving the premises, Stoltz followed her shopping companion who had, only moments before, used the same step. Stoltz could have noticed her companion’s height diminish as she stepped from the sidewalk. Instead, Stoltz looked straight ahead and fell from the sidewalk to the parking lot. Burton had no duty to warn Stoltz of the obvious condition. If anything, Stoltz behaved negligently by not exercising due care to protect herself.
Bolick v. Bon Worth, Inc, 150 N.C.App. 428, 562 S.E.2d 602 (2002). In Bolick Plaintiff was injured after falling down a drop down outside the bathroom door she had moments before entered. In Bolick the “Plaintiff stated that she had not forgotten about the steps outside the bathroom.” Id at 429. By the Plaintiff in Bolick stating she had full knowledge of the dangerous condition the Defendant had no duty to warn of the condition. There is no jury question of what a person should remember if a person admits to having knowledge.
Lorinovich v. K Mart Corp., 134 N.C.App. 158, 516 S.E.2d 643, (1999).
In Lorinovich the Plaintiff was injured when she tried to get a jar from the top shelf in Defendant’s store. In reversing the Superior Courts decision for summary judgment the Court held that, “when a reasonable occupier of land should anticipate that a dangerous condition will likely cause physical harm to the lawful visitor, notwithstanding its known and obvious danger, the occupier of the land is not absolved from liability.” Id. at 134 N.C.App. 158, 163, 516 S.E.2d 643, 646 (1999).
The Court in Barber citing Norwood v. Sherwin-Williams Co. 303 N.C. 462, 468, 279 S.E.2d 559, 563 (1981) stated:
The basic issue with respect to contributory negligence is whether the evidence shows that, as a matter of law, plaintiff failed to keep a proper lookout for her own safety. The question is not whether a reasonably prudent person would have seen the platform had he or she looked but whether a person using ordinary care for his or her own safety under similar circumstances would have looked down at the floor.
The Barber Court went on to state at 147 N.C.App. at 94, 555 S.E.2d at 308 that:
Plaintiff testified that she looked straight ahead as she pushed the bar on the door and proceeded through the doorway. Defendant maintains that all of plaintiff’s evidence points to her contributory negligence as a matter of law. It is not for us to say whether plaintiff behaved reasonably. We believe that reasonable men may differ as to whether plaintiff was negligent at all…. What would any reasonably prudent person have done under the same or similar circumstances? Only a jury may answer that question.
Mulford v. Cotton States Hotel Co. 213 N.C. 603, 197 S.E. 169 (1938)
In Mulford Plaintiff was injured when she fell at a drop down at an exit, which she had previously entered. In reversing the Appellate Courts Directed Verdict for Defendant on the issue of Plaintiff’s negligence the Court went on to hold that:
The eye receives impressions through appearances only. It is conceivable that when plaintiff came out of the coffee shop these appearances were quite different-in fact, that is the unavoidable inference from her testimony. Not that the lights had been shifted or altered in their intensity, but the eyes of the observer had been shifted to an opposite direction, and the incidence of the light upon the eye and upon the objects visualized was different. We get our impressions of the shape of objects and the continuity of surfaces largely from the disposition of light and shadow, although color sometimes plays a part. Usually the stereoscopic effect, afforded by vision with both eyes, gives us a sense of perspective-of the relative positions and distances of objects. But this effect is not of much service when we are dealing with flat surfaces, which, under the lighting conditions, may present an appearance of continuity. These things are matters of common knowledge.
As you can see there are a number of factors which go into the success or failure of a NC slip and fall claim. What drives the validity of the claim are the specific facts. A slight variance of facts means all the difference in the world. It is highly advised that if you are injured in a slip and fall that you speak with an experienced personal injury lawyer prior to speaking with the insurance company. To discuss your case please contact us. There is no fee for an initial consultation and we will schedule a meeting that fits your needs.