Slip & Fall Accidents: Who’s Responsible?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over one million Americans suffer a slip, trip, and fall injury and over 17, 000 people die in the U.S. annually because of these injuries. But, who is responsible for these injuries?  Is the owner of the property responsible? Or, does the injured party get blamed for not being careful enough?

The quick answer is that there is no quick answer – it all depends on the circumstances.  

The General Rule

Most slip and fall accidents take place on property owned by a business.  For example, a shopper might slip and fall at a grocery store or a clothing store.  These properties are business properties and Washington law imposes on business owners a duty of ordinary care to their invitees (aka, their customers).  

Great, but what does this mean?

Well, let’s assume Julia slips and falls on a piece of wet tile while shopping at a grocery store.  After sustaining serious injuries from the fall, Julie hopes to recover damages from her accident.  Her medical bills are piling up and she is missing a lot of work.

In Washington, the general rule governing liability in these types of cases states that Julia must prove two elements to hold the owner responsible.  First, Julia must show that an unsafe condition existed on the business premises.  Second, Julie must prove that either: (1) this unsafe condition was caused by the business owner (or its employees); or, (2) the owner had knowledge of the unsafe condition and failed to correct it.  

Let’s clarify matters by looking at this second element in more detail.

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Unsafe Condition Caused By Business Owner

As stated above, a business owner can be held liable if the owner (or, the owner’s employees) caused an unsafe condition.  Liability can also be imposed if the owner, or an employee, tried to correct an unsafe condition, but did so in a negligent manner.  Unfortunately, there is not a hard and fast way to determine if an owner created an unsafe condition; or, if an employee was negligent in trying to correct an unsafe condition.  The specific facts of a case will typically determine whether or not either one of these conditions was met.

Knowledge of Unsafe Condition With No Action

Again, according to our general rule above, a business owner can be held liable for a slip and fall accident if a person can prove that the owner knew of an unsafe condition but failed to correct it.  Proving that a business owner knew of an unsafe condition can take two forms.  First, an injured party can try to show that a business owner had actual knowledge of the dangerous condition.  Second, an injured party can try to show that a business owner had “constructive notice” of an unsafe condition.  Constructive notice basically means that an unsafe condition had existed for such a period of time that a business owner should have discovered it, and remedied it, by making a proper inspection of the premises.

As with determining if an owner created an unsafe condition, there is no hard and fast rule to determine if a business owner had actual or constructive notice of an unsafe condition.  Again, this issue is typically resolved by the specific facts of a given case.  

Carelessness of an Injured Party

Some slip and fall accidents are due to a level of carelessness by the injured party.  For instance, in our example with Julia, maybe she did fall while shopping because of a liquid on the store’s tile floor.  However, she may be partly to blame for the fall because she was running in the store.  

In this instance, the law states that Julia is “comparatively negligent” for her accident and injuries.  When a party is comparatively negligent, and if a damage award is provided to the injured party, the total amount of this award can get reduced because of the party’s own carelessness.

We’re Here to Help

If you haven’t guessed by now, it is difficult to successfully prove that a business should be held liable for slip and fall injuries.  This area of personal injury law complex, exceptions to rules apply, and the specific facts of the case will ultimately determine if liability should be imposed.  Lawyer Kendra Long at Northwest Women’s Injury Law has successfully represented Snohomish County victims of slip and fall and trip and fall accidents.  She is ready to assist you in your slip in fall case today! For a free case evaluation, call (425) 818-5331.  

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