Evans Agrapidis Discusses Legal Issues Surrounding Slip and Fall Cases
Deconstructing Some Factors at Play in Insurance Claims and Lawsuits Having to do With Premises Negligence
It happens thousands of times each year; due to poor conditions like an icy sidewalk, torn carpeting, inadequate lighting, or a loose railing, an unsuspecting person trips or tumbles and seriously hurts themselves on someone else’s property. When a person suffers a serious injury as a result of unsafe conditions on property owned by another individual or organization, their first inclination is often to file an insurance claim or lawsuit against the responsible party in order to recover any associated medical expenses and lost income. In the legal profession these are referred to as ‘slip and fall’ cases (although they extend to any manner of injury garnered via sudden harmful movements, such as stumbles, over-extensions, or twists), and they are not so cut-and-dry as some people might imagine.
Evans Agrapidis — a personal injury and accident lawyer with more than thirty-five years of experience practicing law discusses legal issues surrounding slip and fall cases.
Fall Down Claims
Insurance companies and courts make certain exemptions for events that occur during the normal course of everyday life, such as a rain shower making a sidewalk slick, or passerby spilling a can of soda on a store’s tile floor. If a slip and fall case revolves around circumstances such as these, odds are it will be dismissed fairly quickly. After all, every individual has at least some obligation to watch where they are going. That being said, if a passerby spills that same can of soda on a store’s tile floor and it is not dealt with for hours on end, then a customer who slips on the pool of liquid and breaks their ankle might have a viable slip and fall case against the establishment. According to Agrapidis, “What a slip and fall case usually boils down to is whether or not it is reasonable to assume that an owner, employee, resident, or steward of the offending property either caused the conditions that precipitated the accuser’s injury, or whether they knew about said conditions and failed to remedy them.”
Except for extremely rare occasions where a willful intent to injure can be proven, for a slip and fall insurance claim or lawsuit to be successful negligence on the part of the accused party (in lawsuits, the defendant) must be established. However, proving negligence beyond a reasonable doubt is not as easy as it sounds. There are certain legal thresholds that must be met, the most relevant of which are notice requirements. Simply put, notice requirements — sometimes called notice standards — state that the burden is on the accuser (in lawsuits, the plaintiff) to prove that the individual or establishment in question “knew or reasonably should have known” that conditions existed which could have posed a danger to their invitees or licensees. If it can be firmly proven that the accused party knew of such conditions and still did nothing, the accuser’s position improves drastically and they will more than likely have a successful claim. Where many slip and fall cases break down is in the nebulous business of proving what the accused party should have known. Think back to the example of the spilled can of soda: it is probably reasonable to assume that a store employee would have noticed it on the floor after a few hours and cleaned it up, but is it reasonable to assume the same after only a few minutes? Therein lies the difference between success and failure in many slip and fall cases. Proving notice is a critical element of the case.
It should also be noted that different sets of rules apply for different types of property. Regarding residential property — primarily private dwellings and single-family homes — the owner usually has very little responsibility in warning guests about potential risks or removing them from outside sidewalks. By way of an example, if a winter storm were to cause snow to accumulate on their property, a homeowner bears no responsibility to immediately clear it from the outside sidewalk. The law is completely different if the property is commercial in nature, or is earning income for the property owner. As such, slip and fall cases against homeowners are generally more difficult for the accuser to win than claims against commercial property owners. A residential property owner is responsible for maintaining their outside steps, driveway, and walkway located on their property.
Multiple Unit Dwellings and Commercial Properties
According to Evans Agrapidis, “The rules are very different when dealing with multiple-unit residential dwellings like apartment buildings or condominiums (which are considered commercial enterprises under the law), as well as traditional commercial properties. Owners, operators, proprietors, and, to some degree, employees of such properties are required to remedy and repair dangerous conditions.
Therefore, slip and fall cases against businesses open to the public are typically easier to win. All that being said, under the laws of some states, lessors — which are usually known as landlords in the common vernacular — usually shift the responsibility for maintaining the commercial property to the tenant. The lease between the landlord and the commercial tenant will include the necessary language which addresses that responsibility.