Personal injury is a broad term used to describe a situation where someone gets hurt because of the action, or inaction, of another. Under the broader personal injury umbrella are specific types of personal injury cases. They include car accidents, medical malpractice, wrongful death and premises liability. What they all have in common is that there was some type of injury and it was caused by the negligence of another party.
When someone is injured on someone else’s property, it is the laws governing premises liability that apply. One of the most common premises liability cases is slip and fall accidents.
Duty Owed in Slip and Fall Cases
Private individuals, as well as both public and private businesses, have a duty of reasonable care to maintain their property and keep it relatively safe for visitors to their property. The duty owed includes maintaining the property so that it is in a reasonably safe condition, or warning visitors of unsafe conditions,
The duty owed to visitors applies to those who are legally on the property. Those legally on the property might include:
- guests invited to a party
- employees at work
- tenants of an apartment building
- customers of businesses, including grocery stores, department stores, and doctors offices
- people in public areas like a state park or a city pool
Trespassers, those who are not legally on the property, are generally not owed a duty of reasonable care. There are exceptions to this.
If a property owner is negligent in his/her duty, and you are injured because of that negligence, you may be able to bring a premises liability case against them and recover damages for your injury. In order to succeed in a slip and fall case, you will need to show that:
- you were owed a duty of care, namely that you were on the property legally;
- an unsafe or dangerous condition existed;
- the owner of the property knew about the unsafe condition of the property and should have known that it could cause an injury;
- the owner of the property did not act reasonably, they did not try to remedy the unsafe condition or warn against it;
- you suffered an injury because of the unsafe condition; and
- you suffered actual damages, like medical bills or lost time from work.
Steps to Take in a Slip and Fall Case
If you were injured in a slip and fall, there are a number of steps that you should follow right away.
- Get medical treatment. The first step is to obtain treatment for any injuries you suffered. Even if you are not feeling any immediate effects, it would be a good idea to see a doctor. In addition to having a doctor document the injury shortly after it occurred, it could be valuable if a more severe injury arises a few days later. For example, in a slip and fall, you may initially suffer some back stiffness. After a few days, you may realize it is more than just back stiffness. If you saw a doctor shortly after the injury, it will be much easier to prove that your back injury was the result of the slip and fall.
- Take pictures. If you are able to, then taking pictures of the area where you were injured is a good idea. Pictures tell stories that people cannot. A picture of an unsafe condition, such as an uneven sidewalk, could be very helpful in proving that an unsafe condition existed. It might even be a good idea to take a picture of your footwear so that there can be no argument that you were wearing improper footwear.
- Get witness information. Like a picture, witnesses are important. Having an impartial witness who has no interest in the case is invaluable.
- Find out who owns, and/or is responsible for, the property. This is extremely important in determining who is liable. For example, if you slipped and fell on an uneven sidewalk walking into a grocery store, you may assume that the store is liable. That is likely true but the store may not be the only party responsible. The store likely does not own the property, therefore there could also be liability on the part of the property owner. The facts of the case will determine who, and if more than one party, has liability.
- Talk to a lawyer. Premises liability cases are very fact intensive. North Carolina’s contributory negligence rule, discussed below, makes recovery more difficult than in other states. A Charlotte North Carolina lawyer can review the facts of your case and help you determine if you have a case worth pursuing.
Defenses to a Slip and Fall Case
If you bring a slip and fall case, the owner of the property will likely try to limit his/her liability and damages. One of the most successful ways to do this involves arguing that you were partially at fault for the accident. Examples of arguments include:
- improper footwear. If you were visiting a horse farm, wearing stilettos, and were injured when your heel got caught in the mud, the owner of the property might argue that you were wearing improper footwear, you should have been wearing boots or sneakers.
- not paying attention. If you were looking at your phone, and not paying attention to where you were going.
- ignoring signs and blocked off sections. Choosing to ignore warnings and go into areas you were warned were unsafe could lead to a finding of partial fault.
- the danger should have been obvious.
- being in an area that people are generally not permitted in.
Since North Carolina is a contributory negligence state, if successful, any one of these arguments could lead to a finding of no liability by the owner of the property no matter how severely you were injured. North Carolina’s contributory negligence rule allows a finding of no liability when the person who was injured was at least partly responsible for their injury. In the majority of states some form of the comparative negligence rule applies. Meaning that even if the injured person was partly at fault, they can still recover at least partially for their injuries.
The Charlotte, NC lawyers at Rosensteel Fleishman, PLLC are experienced personal injury lawyers. They are available to discuss your slip and fall injury with you and help you navigate the legal process if there is a legal claim. Please contact our office at 704-714-1450. There is no fee for an initial consultation.