A slip and fall accident happens when an individual slips or falls and is injured due to the slip or fall on the property of another. Slip and fall accidents are just one kind of lawsuit that falls under the general description of premises liability. Florida property owners have a duty to maintain their property in a reasonably safe manner. If their breach of that duty causes someone to suffer an injury and damages, the owner will be liable in a slip and fall personal injury lawsuit for the negligent failure to maintain the property in a reasonably safe manner. The injured party must prove those elements by a preponderance of the evidence, a standard by which the victim’s version of the fact must be more likely than not to be true.
According to the National Floor Safety Institute, half of all accidental deaths in the home are the result of a fall. Fractures are the most severe consequences of falls, and 5%of people who fall suffer them. The statistics are even more daunting for seniors – one in three persons over 65 will experience a fall; of them, half will be repeat fallers. For those aged 65-84, falls are the second leading cause of death resulting from injury; after 85, falls become the leading cause of injury-related death. The Bureau of Labor Statistics says that one in five falls results in more than a month away from work.
A recent change to Florida law relates to wet floors in businesses open to the public. The 2013 statute requires that an individual who slips and falls on a “transitory foreign substance in a business establishment” must prove that the business knew or should have known about the dangerous condition and should have acted to remedy it. The “should have known” standard is met by circumstantial evidence showing that:
- The dangerous condition long enough that management should have known about it had they been exercising ordinary care
- The dangerous condition occurred frequently and was therefore foreseeable
This “should have known” or constructive knowledge standard requires a person to prove, for example, that the owner knew that there was frequently liquid or spillage in that area or that the spillage and danger had been present for an extended period. That time period must have been long enough for the hazard to have been detected by an employee.
How and to Whom Do Slip-And-Fall Accidents Occur
Slip and fall accidents happen when a property owner is negligent about the maintenance of the property. Under Florida law, a property owner who permits members of the public on their property must maintain the property in a safe condition for certain persons who come on to that property. If the owner breaches that duty and a visitor to the property is injured by the breach, the injured party may obtain money damages. These persons who can seek damages include
- Invitees – The property owner owes the highest duty to persons invited on the premises for the owner’s personal or business purposes. Property owners owe invitees a duty to keep the premises safe, including regularly inspecting the property and making repairs or warning of dangers they knew or should have known existed. A shopper in a store is an example.
- Licensees – These individuals are on the property with the owner’s consent but are there for their own purposes or benefit, not those of the owner. Licensees need only be warned of dangerous conditions of which the owner had actual knowledge. An attendee at a social occasion is an example.
- Trespassers – A trespasser is an individual who is on the property without the owner’s consent or invitation. In states such as Florida that based the owner’s liability on the visitor’s status, the property owner’s duty of care is merely to avoid recklessly or intentionally allow an injury to trespassers on the property.
- Minor trespassers – Under the “attractive nuisance” doctrine, a property owner can be held liable for injuries to a trespassing child if something on the property could be seen as attractive to a child. These attractive nuisances can include swimming pools, construction equipment, refrigerators, septic tanks, open holes, and other hazards that a child might not know to avoid.
Common Reasons for Slip and Fall Injuries
Wet and uneven surfaces
- Loose tiles or floorboards
- Broken tiles
- Worn out or loose carpeting
- Freshly mopped or waxed floors
- Broken pavement or sidewalks
- Uneven stairways
According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, floors and floor materials contribute directly to more than 2 million fall injuries a year.
Extreme weather can cause downed power lines and debris in walkways. Winds can even make walking itself hazardous.
If a hazard cannot be seen, it cannot be avoided. Poor lighting causes a lot of falls. Workplaces and other public spaces are required to be well-lit. If they are not, then the owner can be held liable for any resulting injuries.
Exposed Electrical Wires
Electrical wires are not supposed to cross traffic lanes. These cords can cause slipping or tripping.
Assisted living and nursing home staff are supposed to watch over their residents. They do not always do so. Given that many of these residents already have mobility issues, it is no surprise that nursing homes are a prime location for slip and fall injuries.
Employees need training in avoiding slips and falls in the work environment. This need for training is apparent in construction sites and big box stores and anywhere else that falling or slipping risks lurk.
Improper footwear for the location. Women in spike heels are not the only victims. Anyone in a dangerous environment needs to be wearing the appropriate footwear to that environment.
People do actually depend on handrails for going up and down stairs and, on occasion, for support in a hospital setting. If the rails are weak or broken, people leaning on them can be injured.
Common Slip and Falls Locations
Slip and fall injuries are a subset of premises liability injury law for a reason since they often take place in premises other than the home.
- Stores and restaurants – Spillage and wet floors are common
- Theaters – Dark rooms, steep aisles, and sticky floors
- Sports venues – Like theatres but with steeper staircases and sports equipment coming at you
- Parks and playgrounds – Full of things to fall from and sports equipment coming at you
- Nursing homes and rehab facilities – Residents with mobility problems
- Workplaces – Construction sites, falling file cabinets, and overcrowding
Common Injuries From Slip and Falls
There is a general pattern to slip and fall injuries. These injuries are most common among and hazardous to the elderly. The most common ones include:
- Hip fractures – According to the CDC, nearly all hip fractures result from falls. These fractures usually require surgery and hospitalization, followed by extensive nursing home rehabilitation.
- Head injuries & traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) – These injuries and their potentially devastating effects are not always immediately apparent. Immediate medical attention is vital for any fall that results in a head injury, especially if the faller was unconscious for any amount of time.
- Neck, back, and spinal cord injuries – Fractures to these areas can result in permanent or temporary paralysis, or impairments, or even death. According to the Mayo Clinic, one-fourth of spinal cord injuries in the general population and more than half of those injuries in seniors result from falls.
- Damaged extremities – Wrist and ankle fractures are some of the most common injuries. A compression fracture to the upper end of the humerus is sometimes even referred to as an “old lady fracture.”
- Knee or elbow injuries – Knees and elbows are complicated joints. Injuries there can be hard to repair and hard to heal. They may even require corrective surgery.
- Soft tissue injuries – Sprains and tendon and ligament tears do not always produce immediate symptoms and can take a very long time to heal. Be sure to seek medical care after any significant fall.
Slip-And-Fall Accident Laws
Because slip and fall accidents are common, most states have enacted statutes explicitly outlining the requirements for filings these actions.
Florida Slip and All Laws
Slip and fall cases are, in the first instance, subject to the same rules as any negligence case: duty, breach, causation, and damages. It is just that most of these things are a little more complicated in a slip and fall case, which is the primary reason you want to be sure your attorney has experience at handling slip and fall cases.
- Who fell? The level of duty depends on the class into which the faller fits. As outlined above, there are invitees and licensees to whom the property owner owes a high duty of care. There are also trespassers to whom he does not unless the trespasser is a minor and the owner has something dangerous on the property that a child is likely to explore.
- Did the owner know, or should the owner have known about the hazard? Under Florida slip and fall law, you must prove that it is more likely than not that the owner knew about the danger or should have known about it. The latter is established by showing either that the condition regularly occurred and was therefore foreseeable or that it has existed so long that the owner should have known of it in the exercise of ordinary care.
- Did the owner’s failure to fix the hazard actually cause your injury? Liability in negligence is subject to what is called a “but for” standard. In other words, you must show that “but for” the owner’s failure to repair the hazard, you would not have been injured.
- Were you partially at fault for the slip and fall? Florida is a comparative negligence state. This doctrine means that even if you can show duty, breach, causation, and damages, those damages may be reduced by any percentage to which the accident can be said to have been your fault. However, Florida follows the so-called pure comparative negligence rule. This rule means that even if you were 99% at fault, you could still recover 1% of your damages. You can be partially at fault through things like not paying attention to your surroundings or being somewhere on the property where you were not supposed to be.
- How long ago did you fall? Florida has a four-year statute of limitations on negligence cases. This short time frame means you need to file within four years of the date of your fall.
As you can see, the law in Florida around slip and fall accidents is subtle and complicated. This complexity is the primary reason that you want to work with counsel with significant slip and fall litigation experience and expertise.
Common Defenses Your Attorney Will Help You Avoid
- The dangerous condition was open and obvious – If the hazardous condition is obviously open and visible, the property owner does not have a duty to warn about it. If the other side can persuade the jury or judge that the hazard that caused you to slip and fall was open and obvious, you will not recover.
- You assumed the risk that caused the injury – If you knew that the risk was there, that might reduce or relieve the owner’s liability. If, for example, you go to a baseball game, you assume the risk of being hit with a ball in the stands. You will not be likely to recover from that injury.
- You contributed to your own injury – Florida is a comparative liability state, so the amount you can recover may be reduced if the other side can show that you contributed to your injury.
Liability in Slip-And-Fall Accident Cases
Liability in a slip and fall case is usually on the property owner. However, others can be at least partially responsible. If, for example, a third-party maintenance service were hired to care for the portions of the property that caused your injury, they might also be liable. There is also the impact of the pure comparative negligence rule applied in Florida personal injury cases. Even if your case settles, the insurance companies’ lawyers will have factored your potential share of the fault into the figure offered.
What Damages Can a Slip and Fall Victim Recover?
Not only can past and future medical expenses be recovered, but other less obvious damages such as pain and suffering or lost wages can also be sought under this negligence action.
There is no “average” award in a Florida slip and fall case because the amount of the award is entirely dependent upon the facts of your particular case. An experienced slip and fall attorney can help you to recover whatever those damages were in your case.
Recovery in a slip and fall case can be quite significant, however. First, there is generally no applicable statutory cap on your damages. In addition, if the fall occurred on the premises of a business, the property owner is likely to have far more insurance than the usual automobile driver. That significantly higher coverage will set the limits on what you might recover. Finally, slip and fall injuries are often quite severe, with expensive and long-lasting consequences for which you can expect to recover.
An experienced slip and fall attorney can help you through these issues and determine how best to handle your matter. You should contact one as soon as you can after your fall.
A Step-by-Step Guide for What to Do If You Have Been in a Slip and Fall Accident
- Get medical treatment immediately – Treatment for the injured party has to be the first priority, and delay can cause further damage. You will want to get treatment quickly and get records of the diagnosis and treatment.
- Report the fall – Wherever the fall happened, you should report it to an owner, a manager or employee of the business, a landlord, someone responsible for the property. Be sure to put it all in writing. Ask the person you reported the fall to for a copy of their written incident report and get it before you leave.
- Document and photograph everything – Get names and contact information of witnesses. Take pictures if you have your phone with you. Make sure those pictures show any hazards that contributed to your fall. Create your own written record of what you were doing when you fell. Hold on to everything you were wearing and keep it safe since it might be evidence later.
- Create a case file – In other words, pick some safe place to keep all those documents and photos you create concerning your fall. Your medical bills, pay stubs (for lost wages), and other out-of-pocket expense records should go here as well.
- Do not make a statement – Unlike with a Florida car accident, any statements you make at the scene can be used against you in a later trial or settlement negotiation. Simply say what has to be said to report the incident and then do not say anymore. Now is not the time to place or accept blame. And as a corollary, be sure not to make any statements on social media either. Remember that the other side will look for and use any comments you make online.
- Contact experienced slip and fall counsel – This is not the time to try to be your own expert. Even settlements in slip and fall cases can be long, complex, and subtle. A good lawyer on your side can make all the difference in determining the rest of your life.
So how can an attorney help you with your slip and fall claim?
Iscoe Law has long been assisting clients with slip and fall claims. Contact us today for a free analysis of your case and a free initial consultation. An experienced slip and fall attorney can help you in several ways.
- Identifying the potential parties liable for your damages – Your case will not necessarily be solely against the business owner where you fell. The business owner may not be the owner of the building. The owner of the building may also be liable for your damages, depending on what they are. There may have been other causes or conditions (such as poorly packaged goods or defective lighting) that created other defendants in your case. An experienced slip and fall attorney will be able to spot these potential defendants better than you.
- Assisting with filing your insurance claim – Your insurance claim is likely to be complicated. And once you have made your claim, your attorney’s experience and expertise can be potentially even more critical.
- Negotiating a settlement – Insurance company attorneys negotiate settlements every day. It is what they do for a living, and they do it for the insurance companies, not for you. You do not have the expertise or experience to know the difference between a reasonable settlement of your claim and the bare minimum the company could offer. Plus, your attorney is not emotionally tied to your case the way you are. This emotional distance makes an attorney far more able to negotiate with experienced insurance company lawyers than you would be.
- Filing and litigating a lawsuit, if that becomes necessary – Filing a lawsuit, if that is what it takes to get you made whole, is the domain of the lawyers. Let them be responsible for filing papers, getting witnesses, and meeting deadlines. Do not try to go on your own as a pro se litigant. Your attorney’s skill and expertise will be worth it in the long run.
Call Our Slip and Fall Attorneys After Your Fall
Iscoe Law PLLC has been handling slip and fall negligence cases for decades. Contact us today and let them bring their experience and expertise to your case.