Sidewalk Slip and Fall Lawsuits: Overview
A typical walk down the sidewalk will not end in a visit to the emergency room, but not all walks down the sidewalk are typical. A slip and fall can lead to injuries ranging from minor scrapes or bruises to sprains or strains. In more serious cases, a slip and fall can lead to fractured bones, head trauma, or even worse injuries. For this reason, many municipalities have enacted ordinances requiring landowners or other entities to maintain their sidewalks in a safe condition. However, pedestrians must still always watch where they are walking.
Causes of Injury
A slip and fall occur when something wet or slick causes a person to fall. The most common cause of a sidewalk slip and fall is snow or ice on the ground. Also common are trip and fall injuries, which are different from slip and fall injuries in that they occur when a person’s fall is caused by some physical obstacle. Sidewalk trip and fall injuries can be caused by uneven pavement, potholes, tree roots, or obstacles like kids’ toys or garden hoses left in the path of the pedestrian.
Determining who may be at Fault
Slip and fall injuries are a type of tort. To succeed on a slip and fall claim, the plaintiff must prove that his or her injury was caused by the negligence of the landowner or party responsible for the property. The plaintiff can prove this by showing that the landlord breached a legal duty.In general, a landowner has certain duties; he or she must take care to protect invitees or people who are on the premises lawfully, in two ways. The first is by using ordinary care to keep the premises in reasonably safe condition. This means that the landowner or occupier must avoid doing things that may create a hazard and also must fix dangerous situations that he does (or should) know about. The second way is by warning the invitee of latent, or non-obvious, hazards. If the landowner breaches this duty then he or she may be at fault if someone is injured as a result.Every person, including an invitee, also has the duty to use reasonable care. This means that each person must look where he or she is going. If a person falls on the sidewalk because he or she was not paying attention to where they were going, then any resulting injury may be his or her own fault.
Difficulty in Proving Liability
Slip and fall cases are often tricky to prove. The substance that caused a slip may not remain at the scene for very long. If a slip on the sidewalk is caused by ice, the ice will eventually melt. If a slip occurs in a grocery store, the substance will eventually be mopped up. This puts a plaintiff at a disadvantage because it is the plaintiff’s burden to prove that there was, in fact, a hazard that caused his or her fall. If you are injured in a sidewalk slip and fall, consider taking a picture of the object or substance that caused your fall. Take note of any witnesses who can corroborate your fall and the presence of whatever substance caused your slip.
Common Defenses to Sidewalk Slip and Fall Claims
A landlord or property owner may avoid liability for a slip and fall injury by showing that the plaintiff failed to exercise reasonable care. In other words, if you are injured in a slip and fall accident, you may not recover if the property owner can show that you failed to look where you were going. This is a strong defense especially if the hazardous condition that caused the slip and fall was "open and obvious".Since many sidewalk slip and fall injuries are caused by snow and ice, the property owner may not be liable if the snow and ice was a “natural accumulation.” Some states still follow the natural accumulation rule, which holds that a landowner is not liable if a person is injured by snow or ice that has been left in the natural state in which it accumulated. Courts have generally reasoned that natural accumulation is open and obvious and that pedestrians will notice the potential danger of the snow or ice and proceed more carefully where it exists.In some states, the natural accumulation rule has been replaced by a duty of reasonable care. In these districts, the landowner or occupier may be liable for even natural accumulations of snow or ice if they fail to use reasonable care in removing the hazard or warning others that it exists. In these states, the landowner may be found to have no fault if the injured party cannot show that the landowner had notice of the hazard.