It’s estimated that over one million Americans will suffer injuries due to falls each year. These injuries are often referred to in law as “slip and fall” injuries. These injuries can range from minor scrapes and broken bones to brain injuries and even death. In fact, the CDC estimates that 17,000 people die in the United States annually due to slip and fall injuries. Because these sorts of injuries occur so frequently, our firm receives a large number of inquiries from people who have suffered falls in our region.
So, what constitutes a slip and fall case? Well, the first element is showing that the injury occurred on someone else’s property, but that is not enough. You must also show that the owner of the premises was negligent in allowing a dangerous condition to exist on the premises and that due to that negligence (and not the negligence of the person that fell), the fall occurred and injuries were sustained. So, how do you show that the owner was negligent in a slip and fall case? In Tennessee and most other jurisdictions, you must show that the owner knew or should have known of a dangerous condition before the injured person fell. You can also show that the owner of the premises actually created the dangerous condition. How does this play out in real life? Let’s take one of the more common examples. Let’s say your elderly mother goes to the grocery store and is looking for 2% milk. While looking, she slips on a puddle of liquid in the grocery store and breaks her hip. A significant injury, yes. But can she successfully sue the grocery store as a result of that injury?
The answer lies in the details. First, she has to show that the grocery store was negligent. It is not enough that the injury occurred on someone else’s premises. How does she show that the grocery store was negligent? She needs to prove that the grocery store owner, or employees, knew or should have known of the dangerous condition before the injury occurred. How does she do that? Well, it can be very difficult. Perhaps there are surveillance cameras in the store that reveal that 20 seconds before your mother slipped, a child ran through the grocery store with a water bottle and spilled a puddle of water in the exact location where your mother fell. Between the time that the child spilled water and the time that your mother fell, no employee of the grocery store walked by the location of the spill. In that instance, the grocery store could probably argue that they had no opportunity to discover the presence of the dangerous condition and/or do anything about it in sufficient time to avoid the injury to your mother.
On the other hand, what if the cameras show that this spill occurred an hour before your mother fell? In that case, it may be possible to show that the grocery store had sufficient time to discover the presence of the dangerous condition and remove it before your mother was injured. Alternatively, if it could somehow be shown that an employee or agent of the grocery store actually created the puddle of water, then she could show negligence and pursue compensation. But, to be successful, she’ll need to show that the grocery store knew, or should have known, of the dangerous condition. There are a variety of ways that lawyers can go about trying to prove this ‘notice’ requirement in addition to the examples above.
In many cases of slip and falls, there may not be any evidence to show how long the dangerous condition existed. There may be no surveillance cameras. There oftentimes will not be witnesses to the event. However, it is always the injured person’s burden to prove the property owner was negligent. Unfortunately, because it is often difficult to prove ‘notice,’ many slip and fall cases, even those involving significant injuries, do not result in any compensation. Another factor that must be considered in any slip and fall case is whether and to what extent the defendant can blame the injured person themselves for the fall. If, in our scenario above, surveillance cameras showed that your mother was looking at her phone and texting while pushing a grocery store cart when she slipped on the puddle and fell, then you can be assured that the defendant will blame your mother’s negligence for her own injuries. In Tennessee, if the defendant can show to a jury that the injured person is 50% or more at fault for the injury, then they are barred from any recovery. If the defendant is able to show that the injured person is partially responsible, but less than 50%, then the compensation that a jury may provide by their verdict is reduced by the percentage of fault that the jury gives to the injured person. Thus, if it is a close question as to who is at fault, and the injured person’s injuries are fairly minor, then it is unlikely it would be worth pursuing a case.
Property owners have an obligation to consider whether or not their premises are a safe place for others. This is particularly true of businesses, who often advertise for people to come to their business and then strategically locate signs and marketing material in order to grab a customer’s attention in the hopes of selling additional products. Our lawyers at The Haynes Firm have extensive experience in handling these types of matters, but for the reasons above, we are not always able to take on all cases. Someone in our firm will be happy to discuss with you a potential slip and fall case and evaluate whether we feel the case would be successful.
If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident in Johnson City, TN, call The Haynes Firm at (423) 451-4999 or fill out our online contact form today to schedule a free initial consultation. When you hire us, you pay nothing until we win your case!