Posted on: 24 September 2015Share
You recently slipped on an icy sidewalk and suffered a nasty fall. Not only were you embarrassed by the spectacle you created, but you suffered ongoing pain, and a few weeks later, you were diagnosed with a herniated disk. You are wondering if the property owner can be held liable for all or part of your medical expenses. Perhaps, but because of all the many variables involved in slip and fall law, it's impossible to tell without a lot of investigation.
Slip and Fall Law
Slip and fall litigation is a subset of personal injury law. It is a tort case that derives from a fall in which you sustain injury. But just because you fall on someone's property, does not make the property owner liable. You must prove the owner's negligence in keeping the property in reasonably safe condition. And even if the owner was shown to be negligent, there are still many other variables that are involved in a slip and fall claim, including how and when the accident occurred as well as on what type of property the incident occurred.
In a slip and fall case caused by ice and snow, the timing of the incident is important. Did it occur during or shortly after a heavy snow? Home owners in many states do have the responsibility to clear snow from their sidewalks and driveways within a reasonable time. But a property owner shouldn't be expected to clear his walks an hour after the snow stops falling just to prevent the mail carrier from slipping. However, leaving your walks drifted over for 2 days could give you a fine as well as a judgement of negligence.
If the property is a business that opens at 7 a.m., it's a different story. The business owner knows customers will be arriving shortly after opening and therefore has a responsibility to the public to make the parking lot and sidewalks safe. If the property owner neglects that responsibility, he or she could very well be held liable for any injury caused by that negligence.
Who Owns the Property?
Another confusing aspect of slip and fall cases is that there are often several people that can be held responsible. For example, if a business rents a building from a property owner, both entities can be held responsible for an injury on the property due to negligence. If there is a separate party that manages the property, that party also has a duty to use reasonable care to provide safe premises or could be held liable.
In the case of a sidewalk in front of a personal residence, laws vary across the country. In some areas, the regional government (city, county, or state) owns the sidewalks and is responsible for maintenance and snow removal. However, if a person files suit for a slip and fall injury, the laws covering governmental immunity may limit or prevent any damage recovery.
In other areas, the property owner owns the sidewalk and is responsible for maintenance and snow removal. Injuries in these cases would result in a claim against the owner's homeowners insurance.
Where does the blame lie?
Another complication of slip and fall law is who is actually to blame for the incident? If the property owner was obviously and knowingly aware of a snow or ice problem and did nothing, that owner can be held responsible. But what if the injured party was intoxicated or engaging in dangerous behavior? A judge may rule that the plaintiff is responsible for the incident. Or both the property owner and the injured person may share the blame.
In Case of an Accident…
As you can see, slip and fall law is very complicated. Not only is it ambiguous, it varies from municipality to municipality and changes constantly. If you are injured due to a slip and fall injury, report the incident immediately, take detailed notes and photos of the incident scene, seek medical attention, and then call a personal injury lawyer to sort out the details.