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If You Fell While on Someone’s Property, Are They at Fault?

Anthony J. Caiazzo April 3, 2022

If you’ve been injured by tripping or slipping while on someone else’s property, you may have a case. On the other hand, you may not have a case.

How Does the Court Determine Who Is at Fault?

Certainly the property owner has the responsibility to maintain the property in good repair. Ripped carpet, cracked sidewalks, wet surfaces from dropped food, uneven surfaces, each carry the risk that someone will slip and fall or trip and fall, and potentially be injured.

By the same token, each of us has the responsibility to watch where we are going.

So how does the court determine responsibility? Sometimes the property owner is responsible for the accident. Sometimes the property owner is not.

Consider the dangerous floor, a substandard flight of stairs, or a irregular, rough patch of ground and contrast this with slippery substances, such as an ice cream cone accidentally dropped by a shopper on the floor of the mall.

Someone slipping or tripping on something that an ordinary person should see and avoid is not cause for liability.

Determining Liability

One of the following must be proved for the property owner to be responsible for your injury from a slip and fall or trip and fall on their property:

  • Did the owner cause the abnormality that you tripped or fell over to happen?

  • Was the area of the dangerous surface something the owner knew about but did nothing to remedy?

  • Should the owner or one of the owner’s associates or employees have discovered and removed or repaired this surface?

  • Would a ‘reasonable’ person be anticipated to have cured the problem?

The “should have known” situation is the hardest to prove. This is typically a situation where the Judge and Jury use common sense to determine whether the owner or occupier of property was careful.

What Does “reasonable” Mean?

Does the property owner make ongoing efforts to keep the property in good repair and safe? This will affect the question of whether the property owner is responsible for your injury.

  • How long was the torn, broken, or bulging area of carpet, floor, or ground, or the wet or loose area, or the dangerous spot been there? Should the owner have known about it or had time to repair it?

  • Is the property regularly maintained for situations like this? Does the property owner have a system or method for reviewing and evaluating conditions?

  • Why was the item that you fell over there? Was there a reason? Was it left there after that reason no longer made sense? Should it have been removed?

  • Was the tripping hazard relocatable? Could it have been placed in a safer position or manner?

  • To prevent people from slipping or tripping, was there a sign or barrier?

  • What were the lighting conditions? Did they contribute to the event that caused your injury?

While the property owner has responsibility to keep the premises safe, there is also an expectation that you weren’t careless.

What Contributes to “carelessness”?

After you file your claim, and insurance adjuster will ask you questions to determine whether you were careless and this contributed to the accident. “Comparative negligence” determines your reasonableness or carelessness, and how much this may have contributed to the accident:

  • Why were you in the ‘dangerous’ area? Was it an area that the property owner should have anticipated people being in?

  • Was the spot an area that others would notice as being dangerous?

  • Were there any warnings that the spot might be dangerous?

  • Were you distracted and not paying attention? Were you goofing around or acting in a way that could have contributed to the accident?

Many of the trip and fall cases are situations that can result in a verdict one way or the other. It’d critical to seek counsel with an excellent track record and understanding of the variables that contribute to either negligence or carelessness.