Anybody who’s ever been to a mall, restaurant, or public space while they are cleaning has most likely seen an abundance of wet floor signs, areas roped off, or even an attendant telling you to go around and be careful. So why do malls, restaurants, and even small local businesses make such a big deal about a wet floor?
The answer is simple: property owners have a legal responsibility to keep their premises safe for everyone who uses them. A puddle of water without a warning sign is a serious hazard for unsuspecting customers walking by. Slip and fall, also known as premises liability cases, can go beyond missing wet floor signs; it can include things like improper floor coverings, failure to properly inspect the property, or insufficient staffing.
When it comes to slip-and-fall/premises liability cases, the claim against a property owner is brought under a theory of negligence. Negligence requires that the plaintiff (the injured party) proves that the property owner owed them a duty and also breached that duty. Next, a successful slip and fall case requires that the plaintiff actually be injured and that the property owner’s negligence actually and proximately caused their injury.
But what exactly does all this mean?
Duty and Breach
It is understood that property owners owe a designated level of duty to those who enter their premises. For example, a business owner who’s store is open, is essentially inviting in customers who wish to shop there. In this case, the business/property owner owes the customer the duty of taking reasonable care to ensure that his premises are free of any hazards that may endanger the customer.
Until recently, Florida Law did not require the property or business owner to be aware of the hazard to be liable for an injury. Now, the law requires that the plaintiff not only prove that the business owner did not take reasonable care of his or her premises, but also that he or she knew that there was a hazardous condition that could cause harm to their customers. This knowledge of the hazard can be actual or constructive. Actual knowledge means that the business owner knew of the hazard, whereas constructive knowledge means that the business owner should have known about the hazard.
To see an example of duty and breach, check out our case study involving a slip and fall accident in a Fort Lauderdale restaurant. Our lawyers were able to prove that the restaurant was liable and failed its duties to their customer. The case was resolved for a total of $250,000.
Slip and fall injuries can be devastating. These incidents can cause physical and mental pain and suffering, bring in costly medical bills, re-aggravation of a pre-existing condition, diminished enjoyment of life, and lost current and future income.
Understanding the extent of the damages is the first step. Next, the plaintiff must prove that the property owner’s negligence / breach of duty directly caused these damages. To prove the damages were caused by the property owner’s negligence, the causation must be actual and proximate.
Actual causation is simple: if the property owner’s negligence actually caused the injury, they are liable. For example, if a property owner fails to clean up or mark a spill, and a customer slips on the wet floor resulting in an injury, the causation for their injury was actually the negligence of the property owner and the breach of his duty to clean up the spill. The property owner will be liable for any immediate physical pain and suffering caused by the spill, and possibly other damages that may not be as obvious initially.
Proximate causation has to do with how strongly the negligent behavior correlates with the damages. For example, if the same business owner fails to mark a spill with a wet floor sign, and someone trips and is hurt. Their negligence was a substantial factor in the customer tripping. However, let’s say that the tripping customer, while tripping loses hold of his shopping cart which then rolls down the aisle and knocks over another customer. The business owner will be liable for the slip caused by the spill, because that was a foreseeable result of his negligence. However, the business owner may not be liable for the rogue shopping cart, as that could not have been a foreseeable hazard. In that case, his negligence only affected the second customer incidentally.
A Slip and Fall, or Premises Liability Case Must Prove the Following:
- Duty was owed by the property owner to the customer
- That duty was breached by the property owner
- The property owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard
- Injury and Causation
- The injuries sustained by the property owner must be real
- The injuries must be actually and proximately caused by the negligence of the property owner
Business or property owners will often attempt to entice an injured customer to sign a release of liability in exchange for compensation. You should never sign a release like this without first speaking to an experienced attorney about the incident. For a detailed guide to protecting yourself immediately after a slip and fall, click on the link below:
Slip and Fall and Premises Liability Law can be extremely complicated and confusing. If you or a loved one have suffered due to a property owner’s negligence, we highly recommend you speak with an experienced personal injury attorney. At The Law Firm of Cohen & Cohen, we’ve spent 50 years making sure those requirements are met while fighting for thousands of victims who’ve experienced loss or injury due to another person’s negligence.
Contact us today for a free consultation regarding your case.