The law refers to an “unsafe environment” as a “dangerous condition” of public or private property. The government, a corporation or company, or individual is responsible for injuries from falls that occur on property they own or control, if certain conditions are met.
The property must have been in a “dangerous condition” at the time of the fall. Whether a condition is dangerous depends on many factors: how is the property typically used and by whom; what changes reasonably could be made to fix, protect or warn of the danger; is the potential danger trivial, obvious, or difficult to detect? To determine how strong your “slip and fall”’ or “trip and fall” case is, a lawyer from Rice & Bloomfield and an appropriate expert will physically examine the area where the fall occurred, because photographs may not disclose the full extent of the danger.
The dangerous condition must create a “reasonably foreseeable risk” of the kind of injury that occurred. For example, it is reasonably foreseeable that a wet floor in a busy grocery store could cause someone to fall and hurt themselves.
“Negligence” is the basis for holding someone legally at fault for an injury. In order for the property owner to be held legally responsible for injuries from a fall, he or she must have created the dangerous condition or knew about it long enough to take steps to fix or protect against it. If the person responsible for the property doesn’t know about the danger or doesn’t have the opportunity to fix it, he or she isn’t “negligent.” In the supermarket example, if a customer drops a carton of milk, spilling it on the floor and another person falls before the spill can be reported or cleaned up, the property owner isn’t legally at fault for injuries from the fall because she wasn’t negligent. On the other hand, if surveillance videos show that the spill occurred 45 minutes before someone fell, the owner had plenty of time to clean it up and was negligent if she failed to do so.
Finally, the injured party must be able to prove that he was actually injured and that the dangerous condition was a “substantial factor” in causing the injuries suffered. The dangerous condition need not be the only factor, but it must be more than a “remote” or “trivial” factor. A teenager racing downhill on a skateboard at an unsafe speed may encounter a small tree branch on the sidewalk and fall when his skateboard slows or stops suddenly. Under these circumstances, the cause of the fall was the unsafe speed, not the tree branch.
Injuries from falls can be life-altering. A blow to the head from a fall can cause traumatic brain injury, permanently affecting memory and function. A broken leg will limit activities for months and may make it impossible to work. A sprained wrist can take months to heal, during which using it is painful and may cause re-injury. Rice & Bloomfield lawyers have years of experience representing clients whose lives were upended by injuries from falls that never should have happened. If you or someone you know has been injured in a fall, call Rice & Bloomfield for a free consultation.