If you were injured when you slipped and fell on someone else’s property, you may be wondering whether you should contact a lawyer. In New Jersey, public entities, owners of property, and managers of businesses all have a level of responsibility to keep the public safe from hazards on their premises. If you were injured while patronizing a business or visiting someone’s property, you may have a legitimate claim to recover damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and more.
The “rules” for liability in a slip and fall accident vary based on the relationship between the parties and what the property owner/operator knew or did. In order to be liable, a property owner must generally have either caused the dangerous condition; known about it (or should have known about it) and failed to take reasonable action to correct it; or failed to issue a proper warning that the danger existed. Liability generally turns on whether the property owner acted “reasonably” under the circumstances. In order to answer this question, one must examine what steps the property owner took to keep the property safe, inspect the property, as well as all of the factors which caused the injured person to be on the property and in the area where the accident occurred. The conduct of the injured person is also a significant factor which must be examined fully in order to determine the merits of the case.
It is not enough that you slip and fall on someone else’s property. In order to bring a successful premises liability lawsuit against a property owner you must be able to show that they did something, or failed to do something, which was a cause of the accident. If the truth is that you were careless, or just simply fell, the injury will not be attributable to the property owner and they will not be liable for your injuries. The slip and fall accident must have been caused by a dangerous condition on the property which the owner was responsible for causing you to encounter.
Any hazardous condition that causes an injury can potentially be deemed dangerous. One of the most common hazardous conditions is snow and ice accumulation. After a snowstorm or winter weather event, a commercial property owner or occupier must remove the snow and ice from any sidewalks and walkways that people are likely to use. The law does not generally require them to make the property completely free of ice and snow. Rather, they are only required to make their property “reasonably” safe. This is a fact-sensitive determination. Residential property owners are generally under a lesser duty. In addition, some states, townships, and municipalities have laws governing snow and ice removal which may or may not prove relevant to the case. Other common examples of unsafe conditions include:
As discussed above, a property owner will only be held liable if they knew or should have known about the dangerous condition, and failed to take proper action to address it or warn of it. The courts will afford property owners a reasonable amount of time to discover the dangerous condition. For example, if a person spills a bottle of oil in a grocery store, and someone immediately slips after the spill, the store will probably not be held liable because it likely had no chance to discover and correct the hazard. It can be difficult to prove how long a spill has been sitting in the aisle of a store, although there may be signs (such as track marks through a spill) which suggest its age. An experienced personal injury lawyer can examine the incident report taken by the store surveillance footage, and can interview witnesses, including store employees to gauge the merits of the claim.
Property owners and public entities are generally also required to warn people of known dangerous conditions, if they do not or cannot correct them immediately. For example, the public must be warned of areas under construction, and stores must place “caution” cones on freshly mopped or waxed floors.
If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident on someone else’s property, you may be able to recover present and future medical bills, pain and suffering, lost wages, loss of earning capacity, and more. Victims may be eligible to recover compensation to cover all medical bills relating to the fall. You may also be able to recover damages for “pain and suffering.” There are no clear rules as to how much one may be awarded, but the severity of the injury and the amount of one’s economic losses (medical bills, lost wages, etc.) are factors a jury or insurance company may consider. If you missed work as a result of your injuries, you may be able to recover the value of the wages you otherwise would have earned. If your injuries were severe enough that you are unable to return to your former line of employment, you may be able to recover damages for your lost earning capacity. A vocational rehabilitation specialist can be retained at your trial to help inform the jury of the true cost of your injuries.