When you suffer a slip and fall on someone else’s property, you may wonder whether you can file a lawsuit to recover compensation for injuries you sustained in the fall. Your right to bring a slip and fall lawsuit depends on multiple factors, including the cause of the accident, the injuries you’ve suffered, who may bear liability for the accident, and the evidence supporting your claim.
If you’ve experienced injuries from a slip and fall accident, you should learn more about preparing and pursuing a lawsuit. A slip and fall accident lawyer can also help you better understand your legal options and assist you in seeking financial recovery.
Common Causes of Slip and Fall Accidents
Some of the most frequent causes of slip and fall accidents include:
- Food or liquid spills
- Water leaks
- Snow or ice
- Mud or decayed plant debris
- Wet grass
- Recently mopped or waxed floors
- Transitions between flooring surfaces, such as stepping onto a hardwood floor from carpets
- Uneven floors
- Broken or uneven pavement
- Broken stairs or missing handrails
- Cords or wires laid on the ground
- Obstructions in walkways
- Poor lighting
What Injuries Do Slip and Fall Accidents Cause?
Injuries that may occur in a slip and fall accident include:
- Dislocated joints
- Ligament sprains/tears
- Muscle or tendon strains/tears
- Nerve damage
- Herniated spinal disc injury
- Perforation injuries
- Internal injuries and bleeding
- Head and facial injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries and paralysis
Slip and fall accidents may lead to severe injuries when an accident victim falls from a height, falls onto a sharp object, or strikes their head or torso on an object while falling or on the ground.
Where Do Slip and Fall Accidents Frequently Occur?
Slips and falls often occur in public establishments with substantial foot traffic, such as:
- Bars and restaurants
- Grocery stores and supermarkets
- Department stores
- Home improvement stores and garden centers
- Shopping centers and malls
- Amusement parks
- Parking lots and garages
- Office buildings
- Condominium and apartment complexes
- Swimming pools
- Gyms/fitness centers
- Sports and athletics facilities
How to Prove Liability in a Slip and Fall Lawsuit
Suffering a slip and fall on someone else’s property does not automatically entitle you to recover compensation for your injuries and losses. Instead, your lawyer must prove that another party bears liability for the accident.
Although liability for a slip and fall typically rests with the owner of the property where the accident occurred, other parties who may have liability for an accident include:
- A commercial or residential tenant
- A property manager
- Third-party property maintenance or janitorial services companies
A party’s liability for a slip and fall accident will depend on the duty they owe to the injured person who suffered the slip and fall.
That duty will vary depending on the accident victim’s status on the property: invitee, licensee, or trespasser.
- Invitee. An invitee is a lawful visitor who enters the property at the owner’s or tenant’s invitation. Invitees include business customers or contractors hired to perform work for the owner. Property owners owe invitees the highest duty to use reasonable efforts to keep their premises free of hazardous conditions. Reasonable efforts include conducting regular property inspections, promptly fixing hazardous conditions, or posting visible warning signs.
- Licensee. A licensee is a lawful visitor who enters a property for their benefit rather than the owner’s benefit. Examples include social guests and utility workers. Owners only owe a duty to protect licensees from hazardous conditions of the property known to the owner if the owner believes that the visitor won’t recognize the hazard.
- Trespasser. A trespasser is anyone who enters a property without permission or lawful authority. Property owners owe trespassers no duty to protect them from dangerous conditions on the premises. However, this rule does not apply to young children who trespass on property after a hazardous condition “attracts” them onto the premises.
Many slip and fall accident victims qualify as invitees because their accident occurs while they are visiting a business or commercial establishment. Proving a business or property owner’s liability in those circumstances usually requires showing that the owner either created the hazard that caused the fall or that the hazard existed long enough that the owner should have discovered and cleaned it up.
About Slip and Fall Accident Lawsuits
Critical facts to know about your rights in a slip and fall lawsuit include:
What Happens if You Bear Partial Responsibility for the Slip and Fall Accident?
In Washington state, you may still pursue a slip and fall accident claim even if you share responsibility for the accident. Washington follows the pure comparative negligence rule, which says that any share of fault you may share for the accident will not bar your right to pursue financial recovery. However, the rule also diminishes any financial recovery you could obtain in a slip and fall accident lawsuit in proportion to your share of fault.
A property owner may argue that you bear partial responsibility for the slip and fall accident because you failed to exercise due care while walking over a slipping hazard. A slip and fall accident lawyer can fight back against allegations of your partial fault to maximize your compensation.
Compensation Available in a Slip and Fall Lawsuit
You may recover compensation in a slip and fall lawsuit for:
- Costs of medical treatment of your injuries, including hospitalization, surgeries, pain medications, medical/mobility equipment, doctor’s appointments, and physical/occupational therapy
- Costs of long-term care you may need for permanent disabilities, including home health services or installation of disability accommodations in your home
- Loss of income if you cannot work while recovering from your injuries or if you earn less working in a part-time/light-duty role
- Loss of earning capacity and employment benefits if you become permanently disabled from work
- Physical pain and emotional distress from your injuries and recovery, including disabilities or visible scarring and disfigurement
The Statute of Limitations on Slip and Fall Lawsuits
Under Washington’s statute of limitations, you only have three years to file a lawsuit after you sustain injuries in a slip and fall accident. If you file suit after the statute of limitations expires, the trial court can dismiss your case regardless of its merits.
Speak with a slip and fall accident lawyer as soon after the accident as possible to confirm how long you have to file your slip and fall accident lawsuit and ensure you can file your suit on time.
Defenses to Slip and Fall Claims
Business and property owners may have legal defenses against a slip and fall accident claim.
Common defenses include:
- Contributory fault. A property or business owner may reduce their financial liability to a slip and fall accident victim by arguing that the injured victim bears some responsibility for the accident.
- Open and obvious doctrine. An open and obvious doctrine defense argues that a property or business owner is not liable for a visitor’s slip and fall when the accident occurred because of an open and obvious hazard. However, a property owner may still be liable to an invited visitor despite the obvious hazard when the owner knew that the visitor would fail to protect themselves or should have anticipated harm.
- Assumption of risk. In an assumption of risk defense, a property owner may avoid liability by proving that the injured party knew they were participating in an activity that carried a risk of injury and voluntarily participated despite the danger. For example, a skating rink owner might argue that a visitor assumed the risk of slipping and falling by stepping onto the ice.
- Trespassing. A property owner may defend against a slip and fall lawsuit by arguing that the injured victim trespassed on the property. Property owners only owe trespassers a duty to refrain from inflicting intentional injury. Owners typically do not have liability for a trespasser’s slip and fall.
When a business or property owner tries to raise one of these defenses against your slip and fall claim, an experienced attorney can prepare a persuasive argument to counter the defense.
What Happens in a Slip and Fall Lawsuit?
A slip and fall accident case begins with an investigation into the facts and circumstances of the accident.
Examples of evidence that you may want to recover for your legal case include:
- Accident or incident reports prepared by the property or business owner
- Surveillance footage of the accident and the area in the minutes or hours leading up to the fall
- Eyewitness testimony
- Accident scene photos, including whatever may have caused you to slip and fall
- Medical records linking your injuries to the fall
- Expert reports and testimony from accident reconstruction or engineering expert witnesses
Once you’ve gathered evidence to prove the property owner’s or another party’s fault for the accident, you or your attorney can prepare an insurance claim or demand letter to send to the at-fault party or insurance company. Your claim or demand letter will lay out the evidence supporting your case, document your injuries and losses, and request compensation to settle your claim.
After filing your claim, you or your attorney may negotiate with the liable party or insurance company to reach a settlement agreement. However, if the settlement takes too long, your lawyer must file a lawsuit to continue pursuing your slip and fall accident claim.
A lawsuit starts when you file a complaint in court that details your allegations against the opposing party or parties. Those parties can file an answer admitting or denying the allegations.
Once the parties have filed their pleadings, the case proceeds to discovery. In discovery, the parties exchange evidence and take testimony from witnesses to identify which issues remain in dispute for trial.
If you haven’t settled your case yet, your case may reach trial. At trial, you and the opposing side will present your evidence and witnesses to a jury or judge who will issue a verdict and judgment resolving your claim. If they find the property owner or other parties liable for the accident and your injuries, they will award you compensation for your losses.
You May Have the Right to Recover Compensation for Injuries You Suffered in a Slip and Fall on Someone Else’s Property
When you have a slip and fall accident on somebody else’s property, you may have a legal claim against the property owner or other parties to recover compensation. You will need to prove that the accident occurred due to a hazardous condition created by the property owner or a condition the owner had a duty to fix or warn you about.
In a slip and fall claim, you can recover compensation for your medical expenses, lost income, and pain and suffering. However, a property owner or other liable party may have legal defenses they can raise against your claim.
A personal injury lawyer will know how to investigate, prepare, and present a robust case that shows you should receive compensation for the injuries you suffered that weren’t your fault. A lawyer will prepare for any defense the at-fault party may present and argue against those defenses.