Can You Sue If You Fall On Private Property?
A fall or accidental slip can sometimes be harmless, but it might also cause a long-term, chronic injury that can last a lifetime. A slip or fall may be serious enough to include a broken bone or a severe head/neck injury that could result in paralysis or death. Those who fall unexpectedly may find they face a lifetime of pain, suffering, and the expense of continuing care. Some can no longer work, and their life is disrupted indefinitely.
If your ‘slip and fall’ occurs on private property, you may have a legal option to seek the compensation you deserve for resulting injuries by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Of course, every ‘slip and fall’ situation may differ, but in specific scenarios, you can sue if you fall on private property if the owner of the property has been shown to be negligent.
Personal injury liability rules related to private property vary from state to state. In addition, how the property was being used when the incident occurs – i.e., for residential or business use, will dictate the rules relating to personal injury liability cases.
Defining Duty of Care
According to the duty of care in this instance, property owners must use “reasonable care” when attempting to prevent injury to others. Note, however, that reason is a relative or comparative word, which means that its usefulness as a reference point can vary with place or time, as well as the relationship among the parties involved. As a result, conduct in one instance that may not be deemed reasonable may not be similarly viewed in another circumstance.
Property owners have a legal duty of care to reasonably protect individuals on their property from undue injury. Often, this duty of care determines the placement of legal liability. This includes the following –
- Warning visitors of known dangers prior to repairing the issue.
- Taking appropriate actions to correct known (or what should have been known) hazards.
Negligent property owners who a) fail to manage a dangerous situation with the proper duty of care that b)results in an injury may be held liable and be responsible for the payment of the compensation for an injury caused by lack of care or negligence.
While the law recognizes that it is not possible to put a dollar amount on any injury (or truly believe that money can make up for pain and suffering), the reality is that with appropriate compensation, the injured victim can find a way to reduce some of the financial anxiety associated with long-term care.
If the injury occurred in a commercial location – like a restaurant or the mall – the business may potentially be sued. If the injury happens at a residential location, a homeowner (or really, their homeowner’s insurance carrier) may be on the hook for the compensation due because negligence caused an injury to another person.
Defining Premises Liability
This legal concept, known as premises liability, is the basis for many personal injury lawsuits. Premises liability is defined as the legal responsibility for an injury that was the result of a defective or unsafe condition on another’s private property. Like most personal injury lawsuits, premises liability requires that the injured individual (a.k.a., the plaintiff in the suit) prove that the owner of the property was negligent with respect to the property’s reasonable maintenance or duties of property ownership.
In general, the concept of negligence as it relates to premises liability simply refers to the fact that a property owner did not meet what is considered a reasonable level of care or duty with regard to the property.
It’s important to note that simply because an injury occurred on another person’s property, it does not automatically imply that the owner of the property’s negligence caused the injury or incident. In addition, even if the property was somehow unsafe, this, too, does not automatically mean that the property owner was negligent. Negligence must be proven –
The property owner had (or should, from a reasonable perspective, have had) the knowledge of the hazardous or unsafe condition and – failed to appropriately remedy the situation to make it reasonably safe.
Types of Premises Liability Cases
Premises liability cases include a broad cross-section of scenarios. The following can all be considered a premises liability case –
- Slip and fall accidents.
- Poorly maintained or defective conditions on the property.
- Insufficient stairwell lighting or poorly lit hallways, parking areas, etc.
- Loosened handrails or broken stair steps.
- Snow or ice mishaps on property pathways.
- Inadequate security.
- Water leaks or flooding.
- Wet floors left unattended – without warning signs.
- Dog bites.
- Toxic chemicals/fumes.
- Elevator/escalator accidents.
- Swimming pool incidents, among others.
Determining Who is Responsible
Slip and fall accidents can occur in retail stores, a friend’s or other people’s homes, motels, Air BnB’s, and many other locations. The critical element to any personal injury incident is the gathering of factual elements that demonstrate where liability lies with regard to the incident that caused the injury. Thousands of individuals are injured each year, some seriously from tripping or a slip and fall caused by one of the above–mentioned events.
In order for a property owner to be held legally liable for any injuries that may be caused by someone slipping or falling, one of the following statements must be true –
- The owner of the property had previous knowledge regarding the dangerous condition and chose not to try and fix it.
- The owner of the property should, by reasonable standards, have known about the hazard or danger and taken appropriate steps to prevent someone from being injured.
- The owner of the property was responsible for the creation of the hazard, which ultimately caused the injury.
Issues surrounding the concept of liability are often based on conclusions dictated by common sense. In fact, the jurisprudence system is tasked with the responsibility of determining if the property owner met the duty of care. This is accomplished by reviewing if the property owner took proper steps to safeguard anyone walking in the area of the property. When contemplating the facts of the case, the law tends to concentrate on the steps a property owner has taken to regularly maintain the property so that it continues to meet local building codes and is safe and clean.
When determining where the fault lies in a personal injury case, the following factors may also be taken into consideration –
- How long was the danger present on the property?
- Did the property owner have ample time to even know the danger existed?
- Did the property owner take the necessary steps to remedy the dangerous and hazardous condition?
- If the property owner tried to fix the danger or hazard, do their attempts rise to the level of reasonable and appropriate choices by a property owner?
- Did the victim contribute to the cause of the action due to their own careless or reckless choices?
Comparative Negligence and Personal Injury Cases
Specific states include comparative negligence laws. Comparative negligence refers to the fact that an injured individual may also have some degree of responsibility for the actions that ultimately caused their injury. Comparative negligence is a legal technique that is used to individualize each incident’s recoverable damages by placing economic burdens on everyone who contributed to the incident.
The amount of negligence on the plaintiff’s (or injured person’s) part will dictate, proportionally, the amount they are eligible to receive.
Winning a Personal Injury Case Requires Proving Negligence
To reach a successful conclusion in a personal injury case, an attorney is required to prove that the lawsuit’s defendant was negligent or somehow at fault for the situation that caused the plaintiff’s injuries.
Dangerous conditions can potentially be present on any type of property. Owners have a responsibility to both properly maintain – and fix dangerous and hazardous conditions to prevent anyone from becoming injured. Ultimately the following must occur to reach a successful conclusion of a personal injury lawsuit –
- You, as the plaintiff, were owed a duty of care by the defendant.
- The defendant breached the obligation by failing to fulfill the duty.
- This duty of care breach caused the fall and, thus, the injury.
- The individual who was injured suffered actual damages as a result of the injury.
There are times when there may be more than one party who is responsible for an injury that falls under the category of premises liability. This may include multiple people who may own a property jointly as individuals or even as a joint business venture. A personal injury case may also include a professional management company if they failed to meet the fiduciary duties as agents for the property owners.
The Personal Injury Process
Someone is Injured
At the heart of any valid personal injury lawsuit is an injury of some sort. The extent of the individual’s losses – which is known in the legal arena as ‘damages,’ will determine if the case falls within local limits of small claims courts or is a case with damages that exceed small claims court’s limits. This varies from state to state but is generally $5K to $10K.
The Injured Individual Consults an Attorney for a Case Evaluation
An initial consultation is the first step in determining if the incident that caused the injury is indeed a legitimate case. It might also include an exploratory investigation to determine if the defendant has assets or insurance that would be available to cover a future settlement or final judgment.
A Viable Case is Opened
Your attorney will establish the essential aspects of the client/lawyer relationship.
A Complaint Is Filed With a Civil Court & Then Served on the Defendant
The attorney first drafts and then files a personal injury complaint with the relevant civil court. The written and filed complaint notifies the court of the plaintiff’s intentions. It also summarizes the personal injury case in broad detail. Each complaint will differ as it is based on case specifics and factual data but includes essential information that provides for –
- Factual allegations surrounding the incident that caused the injury. This would include dates, times, etc.
- The nature and the extent of the injuries that were sustained in the incident.
- The named defendant(s) that are allegedly responsible for the injuries.
- The complaint’s legal basis for the sought-after compensation.
- The damages that are being sought by the plaintiff in the legal claim.
After the personal injury complaint is filed with the court, the attorney for the plaintiff will have several weeks or so to locate the defendant(s) so that the complaint can be ‘served.’ Serving a complaint is a fancy way of saying that the complaint was physically (and verifiably) delivered to the defendant. This is done to make sure that a defendant has no option to claim they had not been notified about the legal matter.
The defendant is then given time to answer the complaint and file his response with the appropriate jurisdiction. In addition, the papers that are served notify the defendant as to the date on which they must appear in the court.
The Defendant Hires the Attorney
Most defendants will need some time to locate an attorney to represent them prior to their first court appearance. If there is an insurance company involved in the legal matter, the defendant is required to immediately notify the insurer, who will then appoint legal counsel for the matter.
Pre-Trial and “Discovery”
In this part of the pre-trial process – known as discovery, each side talks with one another and shares evidence and witnesses. Early on, each side appears before a judge to notify the court as to how the personal injury case will proceed –
- Do the Sides Agree or Disagree to Mediation or Arbitration?
- Is there a Need to Set a Trial Date?
As discovery moves forward, each side of the case schedules depositions – for their own and opposing witnesses. Depositions are scheduled legal sessions in which lawyers can ask witnesses and others relevant questions regarding the incident – while they are under oath.
The initial part of the personal injury process, which includes both intermittent appearances in court as well as ongoing discovery, can take months, sometimes even more than a year. As delays appear, inevitably, the trial date will be pushed back to accommodate current discovery requirements. When discovery concludes, a defendant’s legal representative has the option to ask that the judge toss the case and issue a summary judgment based on the fact that the plaintiff cannot win the case if it is brought to trial. This is rarely successful but often attempted.
As the lawsuit inches toward its trial date, each side will ramp up efforts for conferences to settle, motions for evidence to be permitted at trial, and of course, jury selection.
The Personal Injury Trial Phase
When the personal injury trial begins, it typically lasts a minimum of a few days. At its conclusion, the judge or jury will issue a final declaration. This determination states whether or not the defendant was liable and at fault for the accident that caused the plaintiff’s injuries and damages. This final judgment will also include a dollar amount that defendant must pay the plaintiff.
A defendant may appeal the judge or jury’s decision. This appeals process can also last months to even years. When the appeals process has been fully exhausted, the defendant who was on the losing end of the judgment will be required to pay the compensation that was established at trial or modified on appeal.
Settlement Is the Most Likely Outcome of a Personal Injury Case
The reality is that most personal injury lawsuits find their way to a settlement before a trial even begins. In fact, at any point described in the personal injury lawsuit process, the parties have the opportunity to settle and ultimately end the lawsuit.
Damages Available for Premises Liability Damages
In a successful personal/premises liability case, the plaintiff receives financial compensation for any injuries that were the result of the proven negligence of a property owner. The damages that may be given for a legal claim when you fall on someone’s private property vary significantly – from thousands to many millions of dollars.
Determining the exact monetary damages involves the analysis of a variety of relevant factors. Of course, damages awarded will be contingent on available evidence as well as the relevant jurisdiction’s state law. The aspects of the case vary but may also include –
- The severity of the injuries sustained in the accident.
- The degree of permanence of the injuries.
- The injured individual’s future potential to work – including one’s realistic and reasonable earning potential.
- The required ongoing care.
- The amount of insurance and/or assets owned by the defendants, to name a few.
In general, the damages for personal injury or premises liability cases fall within one of two categories
- Compensatory damages for both economic and non-economic damages.
- Punitive damages to punish an offender for extreme wrongdoing.
‘Economic Damages’ is a concept that is defined as compensation awarded to cover monetary or financial expenses that are the result of an injury caused by another’s negligence –
- Medical Bills.
- Hospital Visits.
- Visits to Doctors and Specialists.
- Physical Therapy.
- Assistive Devices.
- Lost earnings because the injured individual can no longer work.
- Expenses to replace or repair property that was damaged due to the incident.
These types of damages are estimates (and also vary). Non-economic damages are used to try and compensate the individual for the negative impact the injury has caused to their current and future life. This may include, in part –
- Pain and suffering
- Permanent disability or disfigurement.
- Mental and emotional anguish and anxiety.
- Loss of enjoyment of life.
Trying to calculate a just and fair value for non-economic damages is often one of the most difficult parts of the personal injury or premises liability process. Non-economic damages must be calculated accurately using acceptable methods when assigning value for non-economic compensation. Personal injury lawyers are seasoned experts in these complex matters, so it is important to seek legal guidance as needed.
The total damages, which include both economic and non-economic damages, are the amount you seek as a settlement offer or the amount awarded by the court.
As noted above, punitive damages are only awarded as a means to punish a defendant (or proactively deter others) whose choices and actions rise to an egregious level.
Can I Be Sue If Someone Falls on My Property?
Every property owner has an obligation (or duty of care) to properly maintain and provide reasonable levels of care to keep the property safe from hazards. If a property owner fails to meet their duty of care and someone falls and becomes injured on your property, there is a possibility that the injured individual may choose to sue you as the property owner.
The lawsuit’s success depends on the way in which the person was injured and whether the injured individual was –
- On the property as an invitee – someone who enters the property for beneficial reasons.
- On the property as a licensee – a visitor who is on the property with the property owner’s authorization.
- A trespasser, who is on the property, but does so without the property owner’s authorization.
As a general rule, as a property owner, you have a duty to warn invited guests about potential or hidden dangers on your property. The duty still exists for others but to a lesser degree.
Consult With Slip and Fall Attorneys
If you have been injured and seriously considering a personal injury lawsuit, the smartest move to make is to consult with an experienced attorney who can evaluate the case and help you strategize as to the best course of action that will help bring the compensation you deserve as a victim of someone’s negligence or recklessness.
Legal guidance is critical to ensure legal matters and settlement negotiations are done within the law’s framework – correctly and quickly. Personal injury lawyers can help lift the burden at a time when life can feel overwhelming – from every perspective and feel like it will never move forward again.