Liability in Slip and Fall Accidents

Slip and Fall: Who is Liable?

wet floor slip and fallPeople often assume that slipping and falling on someone’s property entitles them to a sizable insurance settlement. It’s true that, by law, property owners are “responsible for maintaining a relatively safe environment.” However, Louisiana jurisprudence leaves much open to interpretation, and proving fault in slip and fall accidents is not always as straightforward as it seems. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 17,000 annual slip and fall accidents each year, but Lafayette and Baton Rouge Personal Injury Attorney Bart Bernard says these cases can seem like “David vs. Goliath” when individuals are going up against well-heeled corporate defendants.

Proving fault in a slip and fall

In Louisiana, plaintiffs must establish three basic facts in order to prove slip and fall liability:

  1. That there was an “unreasonably dangerous condition” on the property;
  2. That the property knew about this hazard – or should have reasonably known about the hazard;
  3. That injuries occurred as a direct result of the dangerous condition.

Arguments against liability for slip and fall accidents

Defendants in slip and fall accident lawsuits can attack a plaintiff’s argument from several different angles:

  • The Nature of the Hazard: The condition the plaintiff described was a minor defect and could not have been the primary cause of injury. Normal wear and tear of a property should not create a situation of immediate danger.
  • Duty: Liability can dodged if the party the plaintiff is suing can prove they were not the owner, controller, or operator of the premises where or when the injury occurred. Sometimes there are multiple property owners, management companies, independent contractors, and other parties that could bear some liability, so it is important to conduct thorough research and know who’s who. The plaintiff must also establish that he or she was using the property as intended and conducting routine business on the property as an “invitee.”
  • Fault: Property owners often argue that the injured party was to blame for the accident, making the case that “any reasonable person” would have been able to avoid injury by paying attention to where they were going, wearing proper footwear, or using the property in a reasonable manner.
  • Notice: The property owner knew about the danger and was in the process of fixing it, with sufficient warnings posted. Sometimes the hazard occurred immediately before the accident, without giving the property owner enough time to react. Supervisors may have been on duty and assessed the area, but the hazard arose in between routine safety inspections. Typical industry practices regarding inspection, maintenance, and hazard prevention are called upon in these cases. Defense counsel may demonstrate that the defendant took all steps a reasonable person would have taken to maintain a safe premises.
  • Evidence: In a case of “he said, she said,” where there is no video evidence, witnesses, or tangible proof, the burden falls on the plaintiff to bring in medical and industry experts who can corroborate important facts.
  • Damages: Defendants may also contest the specific damages being sought. There must be solid, documented evidence that the injuries suffered were the direct result of the accident, and not some pre-existing condition or later unrelated accident. Plaintiffs can sue for a variety of reasons beyond medical bills, including missed income, disability, psychological damage, loss of consortium, loss of enjoyment in life, and more.
  • Statute of Limitations: Plaintiffs have up to a year from the time of the accident to sue for damages. Anything beyond the statute of limitations can result in an appeal for dismissal.

Comparative negligence in Louisiana

The State of Louisiana allows for “pure comparative fault,” meaning that plaintiffs can be deemed partially liable for the accident, and still collect compensation for their injuries even if they are 99% at fault. The amount collected reduces based on how much liability the judge and jury ascribe to the plaintiff. For instance, in the case of Lois J. Nichols vs. Wal-Mart (1997), a Louisiana woman injured her hands, elbow, and knees falling on a slightly elevated concrete slab near a Wal-Mart entrance. The jury returned a $40,877.53 verdict, but reduced the award by 10% based on the woman’s own admission that she had been paying attention to the automobiles in the parking lot, rather than looking where she was walking.

Slip and fall liability insurance companies offer lowball settlements

Property owners carry liability insurance to reduce the cost, should someone become injured on their properties and sue. Even though they have paid premiums for this coverage, insurance providers hire the best and brightest law school graduates to represent their interests. Their goal is to settle fast and cheap.

There have been instances where insurance adjusters follow ambulances to hospitals to get plaintiffs to sign waivers agreeing to $500 settlements right away, without legal counsel. For the most part, insurance settlement offers average about $10,000 – but this can be a very small sum of money for people with enduring injuries that require a lot of treatment.

The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 4 percent of settlements total more than $1 million, and that the median settlement of a slip and fall case that proceeds all the way to court is $28,000.

Get the best Louisiana slip and fall attorney

“There is a general perception that plaintiffs are at least partially at fault in slip-and-fall cases, so they can be tougher to litigate than other types of injuries. It is an uphill battle, even when plaintiffs can prove the lasting effects of their injuries, but it’s something I feel very passionate about pursuing. People deserve a level playing field.”

Bart Bernard has earned hard-fought victories, including one case where a negligent property owner paid $853,000 for a young man’s fall down an elevator that shattered both heels, despite disputed liability. His many victories have put Bart Bernard in the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum and among the Elite Trial Lawyers of America. Why settle for less than the best? Your opponents aren’t. Call 888-GET-BART for the attention and assistance your case deserves.

Additional Slip and Fall Liability Resources

  1. The Wal-Mart Litigation Project – 99 Verdicts, http://www.wal-martlitigation.com/index.php?p=nn
  2. NOLO – How Long Do I Have To File A Slip & Fall Lawsuit in Louisiana, http://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/how-i-file-slip-fall-lawsuit-louisiana.html
  3. Wikipedia – Slip and Fall, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slip_and_fall
  4. Find Law – Comparative Negligence, http://injury.findlaw.com/car-accidents/comparative-negligence.html
  5. The OC Register – Slip and falls? Personal injury attorney says the system works and has the mock court to prove it, http://www.ocregister.com/2016/07/29/slip-and-falls-personal-injury-attorney-says-the-system-works-and-has-the-mock-court-to-prove-it/

Last modified: May 17, 2017

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