Are You Being Sued For a Slip and Fall Accident? Now What?
By Practice Growth August 30, 2021
Slip and fall lawsuits can easily catch your practice off-guard. Understanding how slip and fall suits work and what to expect if you are sued for a slip and fall accident can help relieve some anxiety and even help you to take steps to prevent the occurrence of a slip and fall accident.
First things first: what is a slip and fall accident lawsuit? A slip and fall accident lawsuit is a lawsuit a customer files against a business due to an injury acquired by a slip and fall accident that occurred at that business’ property and due to a hazard or danger that was neglected on the business’ property.
In general, it is the responsibility of every business, including eye care practices, to make sure its property is free from hazards and dangers that could cause injury to customers, patients, or clients. Businesses that are negligent in attending to the safety of their property could be exposing themselves to significant financial loss by potential slip and fall lawsuits filed against them.
How it works
Who is involved?
In most civil slip and fall accident cases, the plaintiff is the person who was injured by the slip and fall and also the party who is suing the business where they were injured. The business is called the respondent or defendant. The case is handled in a civil court according to the laws and rules of the court. Typically, the business maintains a commercial general liability insurance policy. Via such a policy, the insurance company agrees to provide defense and indemnification coverage to the business such that they will provide a legal defense to the company and will also pay any judgment or settlement, up to applicable limits of insurance.
What happens in court?
There is a judge who makes the decision about whether or not the plaintiff has met the requirements for the burden of proof. If the plaintiff provided testimony and evidence that did meet the requirements for the burden of proof, then the next thing to be decided is whether or not the negligence on the part of the defendant (in this case, eye care practice) was most probably the cause for the plaintiff’s injury. That decision then leads to the specific settling of the case in terms of compensation for damages or other negotiations.
Requirements to meet the burden of proof
The burden of proof is defined as the responsibility of the plaintiff to provide evidence and testimony that proves the following three statements are true:
1. That the defendant was negligible
For slip and fall cases, this means that the plaintiff must show evidence to prove that some action that definitely should have been taken by the defendant was not taken. For example, if an eye care practice was having construction work done on the steps leading to the business door and that work caused hazards on the steps, but the eye care practice did not clearly mark that there was a hazard on the steps, this would be negligence.
2. That the plaintiff sustained an injury
The plaintiff must provide documentation to prove that he or she was injured from the slip and fall accident. If a patient approaching the eye care practice tripped and fell on the unmarked hazard at the steps and sustained an injury, he or she would need to provide documentation to explain that the slip and fall accident was the cause of the injury.
3. That the defendant's negligence directly caused the slip and fall accident, and therefore the plaintiff’s injury
The responsibility of providing adequate evidence to directly link the defendant's negligence to the plaintiff’s injury as a causal series of circumstances is solely that of the plaintiff. If a patient approaching the eye care practice tripped and fell on the unmarked hazard at the steps and sustained an injury, he or she would need to take photographic evidence and collect documentation to show that the unmarked hazard on the steps was the reason for the accident and that the hazard was unmarked due to the business’ negligence to prevent the hazard or post visible warnings about it.
What are the chances of winning?
It is actually quite difficult for a plaintiff to win a slip and fall case. Part of the reason for this is that proving negligence through inaction and also proving that negligence as the cause in a cause and effect series of events involves a huge amount of evidence, and that evidence often can be difficult to obtain.
Additionally, there are many solid defense strategies that the defendant can use in these cases, and those strategies can be very challenging for a plaintiff to argue against.
How long does it take?
Slip and fall accident lawsuits can be dragged out for months and even years. The more time that passes, the more difficult it can be for the plaintiff to provide all evidence necessary to meet the requirements of the burden of proof.
What arguments can the defendant use?
Natural Accumulation Defense
In some states, the natural accumulation defense applies to slip and fall cases involving ice, snow, or other precipitation or weather-related accidents. The defendant (or an eyecare business, as in the previous example) is not responsible for naturally accumulating weather-related hazards on their property (including hazards tracked into a business from customers’ shoes).
The only way a defendant could be held liable for a weather-related accident is by the plaintiff proving that the hazard causing their fall was due to some form of negligence by the business owner or those representing the business (for example, if the owner fails to shovel snow properly or put down a deicing material in advance of a snowstorm).
Open and Obvious Defense
The open and obvious defense is used when the plaintiff had an accident that resulted from running into something, slipping on something, or falling from something that was open and obvious and would not be considered a hazard by most people.
In other words, this defense is used when the plaintiff had an accident that was caused by their own failure to pay attention to where they were going or in some other way was caused by a circumstance that would not normally cause a person to have an accident.
The notice defense involves two parts: actual notice and constructive notice. If a business is alerted to a hazard and does not take action to remedy that hazard, and then someone slips and falls and is injured because of that hazard, all the plaintiff must do to win a case is prove that the business knew about the hazard and did not take action.
Often the defendant will argue actual notice of a hazard was never given, and in that case, the plaintiff can argue from the standpoint of constructive notice, which is based on the idea that the business staff should be reasonably aware of hazards that occur and respond in a reasonable amount of time to those hazards.
How to prevent slip and fall accident lawsuits
Slip and fall accident lawsuits are easy to prevent simply by being vigilant about safety, responding to hazards or issues on your business premise immediately, and proactively arranging for known and natural hazards (like snow and ice) to be taken care of appropriately and promptly.
Be attentive to any repairs or improvements needed in your business parking lot, on or around the sidewalks, and especially near the entrance of the building. Train all practice staff to also respond promptly to any issues or hazards they might see. If staff know the importance of taking action in order to prevent slip and fall accidents and therefore slip and fall accident lawsuits, they will be more likely to take action if they spot a hazard.
The information provided on this website shall not constitute legal advice. All content offered on this site is for informational purposes only. This information may not be up-to-date. No representations are made that the content is error-free. We expressly disclaim all liability with respect to actions taken or not taken based on the content. Please contact an attorney with respect to your specific legal matter.