If you're like most people, the words "slip-and-fall accident" probably make you think of someone who is clumsy. You may picture someone who has had a little too much to drink falling down a flight of stairs and ending up with several broken bones. While this certainly happens, slip-and-fall accidents can also happen to perfectly sober individuals who are simply going about their day-to-day lives.
In fact, according to the National Safety Council, fall-related injuries are the leading cause of nonfatal emergency department visits in the United States, accounting for 33% of all preventable nonfatal injuries.
This comprehensive guide will not answer all of your questions about slip-and-fall accidents, and none of what you're about to read is legal advice. But you'll learn more than enough to know what your next steps should be in case you suffer a slip-and-fall injury.
What is a slip-and-fall accident?
A slip-and-fall accident means exactly what it sounds like: a type of accident in which someone slips and falls down, for whatever reason. Such accidents often result in some form of injury, ranging from mild to severe.
A slip-and-fall accident can happen when a person overestimates their ability to walk on a slick surface or when they are distracted and not watching their step. There are times when, if you slip and fall, it's probably your own fault. But there are times when it isn't, and these are instances when it's most useful to know your rights.
Falling and injuring yourself on someone else's property is grounds for a slip-and-fall personal injury case. These cases are broadly classified as "premises liability" claims. So, if you've slipped and fallen on someone else's property, the owner of the property may be held legally responsible.
A personal injury can be life-changing for you and those close to you. This is why it's crucial to know what action to take in terms of making a personal injury claim, regardless of the extent of your injury.
How do you determine liability in a slip-and-fall accident?
To prove that the property owner was liable for your slip-and-fall accident, you must first show that they were aware of the hazard on their property and didn't do anything about it. Simply proving that a hazard existed is not enough, however. You must also show that the property owner knew or should have known about it.
Here are three ways to do that:
- Show that the hazard existed for a long time without being fixed;
- Show that the property owner created the hazard; or
- Show that the property owner should have known about the hazard because it happened before (or similar accidents have happened before).
You will also need to show that you were injured because of the hazard and that the property owner is responsible for your injuries.
If you can prove all of these things, then you may be able to recover compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Proving fault in a slip-and-fall case can be difficult, as it's not always easy to determine who is the responsible party. For instance, if you seriously injured yourself at a grocery store because you slipped on a wayward pickle that found its way to the cereal aisle, it may not be easy to identify who was at fault: the grocery store owner (and/or their employees), you, or another customer. The only party that would be absolved from all blame for negligence is the pickle.
Additionally, in a compensation claim, before the injured person can file a claim, it must be determined whether the injury was caused by an accident or negligence.
So if you have been injured in a slip-and-fall accident, it is important to speak with an experienced personal injury attorney who can help you navigate the legal process.
Comparative negligence in Washington State
In Washington State, if you are partially at fault for your own slip-and-fall accident, you can still recover compensation from the other party — but it will be reduced by your percentage of fault. In other words, you will be compensated depending on the degree of your fault, or whether you were totally or only partially responsible for the accident that caused the injury. This is known as comparative negligence.
To illustrate, if a jury finds that you are 40% at fault for your accident, and the other party is 60% at fault, then any compensation you receive will be reduced by 40%.
Negligence laws in Washington State will have an impact on your slip-and-fall case, and it's crucial to have someone on your side who can help "compute" the percentage of pain that you experienced, whether it be a fracture, brain aneurysm, or sprained wrist.
Related article: What is comparative negligence in Washington slip and fall cases?
Why do slip-and-fall accidents happen so often, and what sort of injuries do they cause?
Anyone can get into a slip-and-fall accident — old and young, rich or poor, healthy and infirm. But there are some demographics that may be more likely to suffer from a slip-and-fall accident.
For example, the rate of hospitalization and death due to falls among people aged 65 and over is high, based on data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Moreover, one in four Americans aged 65+ falls each year, but less than half tell their doctor. Falls are also among the most common causes of traumatic brain injury-related emergencies.
Also according to the CDC, women are more likely to suffer from hip fractures due to falls generally because, compared to men, most women have smaller, thinner bones.
But anybody (including celebrities and billionaires) can become a victim in a slip-and-fall accident, and it can happen anytime, anywhere, including places very familiar to the injured person. Of course, such accidents can be avoided when property owners take appropriate measures to make their premises safe and hazard-free. Likewise, a person can avoid slipping, tripping, and falling by watching where they're going.
Here's a simple tip to avoid an embarrassing tumble: don't text while walking.
What are the common causes of slip-and-fall accidents?
Anyone can slip and fall for any of the following reasons:
- Wet surfaces and/or icy floors. Fall hazards are more common on slippery surfaces, such as those found in stores with smooth tile floors.
- Uneven surfaces. Shabby concrete, potholed parking lots, and floorboards or rugs that are not properly secured often present a danger to the public.
- Cracked sidewalks. Just like uneven surfaces, cracked sidewalks can also pose a trip hazard.
- Cluttered or blocked walkways. Walking around debris or clutter can cause people to trip and fall, and possibly sustain an injury.
- Poor lighting. Low-lighting conditions make it more difficult to see potential hazards on the ground, which can lead to accidents.
- Stairway defects. Stairways that are not properly designed or maintained can cause people to trip and fall down the stairs, and get injured.
In many cases, slip-and-fall accidents occur not because of slippery floors, poorly designed stairs, or defective stairs. People could just as easily trip on any surface if they do not pay attention to where they are walking, or if they’re looking at their phone or doing something else while walking. Also, if a person is wearing improper (read: unsafe) footwear that’s making it difficult to walk, then they can be said to be at fault if they trip or slip and fall.
Other times, the owner of the property or the one that maintains it may be held liable for an injury that occurred on their premises. But proving negligence in a slip-and-fall accident case can be complex. For instance, if a woman wore high heels to work and slipped and fell in the bathroom of her workplace, it may not be easy to say who was negligent: the woman or the company.
Related article: 3 Slip-and-fall lawsuits that hinged on shaky legal grounds
What are the different types of slip-and-fall accidents?
There are three main types of slip-and-fall accidents: indoor, outdoor, and workplace.
Indoor slips and falls. These typically occur in places like houses, apartments, offices, shopping centers, grocery stores, restaurants, hotels, and movie theaters. They can be caused by wet floors, loose carpeting or rugs, cluttered sidewalks, or stairways. If you've ever been to a crowded mall during the holiday season, you know how easy it is to trip over someone's abandoned shopping bags and end up falling flat on your face.
Outdoor slips and falls. These usually happen on sidewalks, in parking lots, or in public parks. They can be caused by things like weather conditions (think: ice, snow, rain), cracked or uneven pavement, potholes, or debris.
Workplace slips and falls. This is pretty self-explanatory. These accidents occur in the workplace and can be caused by a variety of factors including wet floors, cluttered work areas, loose carpeting or rugs, etc. They can also be caused by trips and falls from heights (think: scaffolding collapse).
What constitutes pain and suffering in a personal injury lawsuit?
In order to recover damages for pain and suffering, an injured person must be able to prove that they have suffered some form of physical or mental anguish as a result of the accident. This can be difficult to do, as there is no concrete way to measure pain and suffering.
Going back to the case of the woman wearing high heels who slipped and fell in the bathroom of her workplace: the accident may have caused her to sprain her ankle, which healed within a few weeks. Although such a condition is undoubtedly painful, it may not be enough to prove that she experienced "pain and suffering."
On the other hand, if she had broken her ankle in the fall and needed surgery to repair the fracture, she would likely have a much easier time proving that her pain and suffering were substantial.
In the end, it may be up to the jury to decide whether or not the injured person has proved their case for pain and suffering.
Related article: Injury cases that prove suffering in silence is an antiquated notion
How do you distinguish "pain and suffering" from "other damages"?
Other damages, such as medical expenses or lost wages, are much easier to quantify than pain and suffering. This is because there are concrete records (medical bills, pay stubs) that can be used to prove the damages incurred.
Pain and suffering, on the other hand, are more subjective. It can be difficult to prove how much pain and suffering an injured person has truly endured.
What should I do if I slip and fall and get injured?
If you do find yourself the victim of a slip-and-fall accident, there are a few things you should do:
- Seek medical attention, even if you don't think you're injured.
- Take photos of the scene of the accident, if you can. This can be helpful in proving your case later on.
- Get the contact information of any witnesses to the accident.
- Contact a personal injury lawyer who specializes in slip-and-fall accidents. They will be able to help you navigate the legal process and get the compensation you deserve.
Before you take legal action, it is important that you understand that the property owner is not automatically held liable for your injuries. You and your personal injury lawyer will need to determine the precise cause of your slip-and-fall accident.
If you slip on someone's property and believe you're entitled to compensation, one of the things you'll probably do is do research on personal injury lawsuits. You might come across terms such as "reasonable justification for slipping hazards" and "dangerous conditions" and believe you know what to do. But there are a lot of dangerous myths about injury lawsuits, and the only way to know what you're legally entitled to is by talking to a personal injury attorney in your state.
In any case, here are some common myths about slip-and-fall personal injury lawsuits that you shouldn't believe:
Myth 1. Filing a lawsuit — and winning — is easy
Many people think it's easy to just walk into a lawyer's office, file a lawsuit, and receive compensation for their injuries. The reality is that these cases can be made complex by issues that may come up and prevent you from successfully making a claim. These issues can include insufficient documents and paperwork, preexisting injuries you may have, and insurance companies trying to push for a settlement lower than what you ought to get. The fact is that even if you have a strong case, there's no guarantee you'll win.
Myth 2. You don't need an attorney to get compensated
Think you don't need an attorney because you know exactly what happened and how the accident occurred and are, therefore, assured of adequate compensation? Think again. An experienced slip-and-fall attorney will know how to build your case and present the evidence in the most favorable light possible.
Myth 3. Medical evidence is all you need
Of course, medical evidence is absolutely important, but it's not the only consideration in a slip-and-fall case. The court will also look at things like witness testimony, the property owner's history of accidents, and whether or not there were any warning signs present.
Related article: 4 Myths about personal injury lawsuits you should stop believing
If you've been injured in a slip-and-fall accident, don't believe everything you read online. Get accurate information about your case by consulting an experienced personal injury attorney. In Washington State, Buckingham, LaGrandeur, & Williams is the legal team to call to help you understand your rights and options. Call our legal offices in Renton today at 206-222-3167, or leave us a message.