Slip-and-fall accidents frequently are the basis of personal injury lawsuits in New Jersey. When someone slips and falls and is injured due to no fault of their own, they rightfully look for accountability for their financial losses and pain and suffering.
However, slip-and-fall lawsuits can be highly complex.
It should come as no surprise that the owner of a store, bank, office building or private home where a fall accident occurred would want to deny fault (or liability) and avoid paying a claim.
Even though the vast majority of slip-and-fall claims are paid through insurance, property owners as well as insurers vigorously fight slip-and-fall lawsuits.
It will benefit you significantly to have the assistance of an experienced personal injury attorney. At Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., we have been protecting the rights of slip-and-fall accident victims in New Jersey for more than 30 years.
We particularly hear from New Jersey residents in the fall and winter months, when ice and snow and extended hours of darkness make slip-and-fall accidents more likely.
New Jersey premises liability law provides protection for people who are injured through others’ negligence. If you have truly been injured because of a hazard that should not have existed or that should have been mitigated, you may have the basis of a claim for compensation.
Property Owner’s Have a Responsibility to Avoid Slip-and-Fall Accidents
The first question to ask if you are thinking about seeking compensation after a slip-and-fall accident is whether the accident could have been prevented. In the end, it all comes down to that. Was someone else at fault?
Accidents happen, and people get hurt. There is little that can be done to change that fact. But the law holds that property owners have a legal duty to ensure that their properties are reasonably safe for visitors. This includes the responsibility of promptly removing snow and accumulated ice.
Owners of business properties, like stores and offices, which effectively ask people to visit them, have a higher duty than homeowners to ensure visitors’ safety.
If a hazard exists on a property, the law provides that the property owner (or a designee, like business managers or staff) must:
- Mitigate (remove or repair) the hazard in a timely manner; or
- Post adequate warning about the hazard or erect a barrier to keep people away if it cannot be mitigated in a timely manner.
These options make room for different types of hazards. A wet and slippery floor may be noticed and mopped up in minutes if a store manager or staff is on the ball.
On the other hand, a pothole in the corner of the parking lot may go unnoticed unless and until someone reports it, and it cannot necessarily be repaired right away.
In either case, the property owner might set out a warning sign to tell people that the mopped floor is wet, or the owner may put up a hazard cone to mark the pothole if not barricade or cordon off that corner of the parking lot.
If someone slips on the floor or trips on the pothole and is injured, the question becomes: Should the property owner have acted sooner to correct the hazard, and/or was their warning enough to alert a reasonable person?
An additional consideration is known as the “open and obvious” rule. In other words, was the hazard so obvious – for example, the barricaded corner of a parking lot – that a reasonable person would have known to stay away from it? If so, someone who acted negligently and was injured may not have a valid slip-and-fall claim.
The problem is that the law can be vague. What is “timely” or “reasonable” is a matter of circumstances. That is why property owners and their insurance companies may balk at paying claims. Injured parties must turn to premises liability attorneys for help.
How Do You Prove Liability in Slip-and-Fall Cases?
In most cases, a slip-and-fall claim can turn on details.
For instance, if during the morning rush at an office building, workers are tracking in snow and rain, building management should be aware that the maintenance staff needs to take care of wet floors at those entrances. Ignoring necessary steps to mitigate the known slippery floor hazard could be considered negligent.
However, if an air conditioning unit breaks down, and leaking fluid or condensation causes a wet spot on the floor in a corridor, it may not be so easy to decide whether maintenance should have found it before the unlucky person happened upon it and slipped and fell.
First, that person would have to establish that he or she had a legitimate right or reason to be on the premises. In most cases, unless the person was clearly trespassing, meeting this standard is little more than a formality.
Second, the person would have to be able to prove that he or she was injured in the accident to an extent that the person suffered some compensable loss, whether economic (medical bills or lost income) or non-economic (pain and suffering).
Third, the person could not have contributed to his or her accident. If someone was talking or texting on a cell phone when he or she fell or was carrying a heavy parcel, it might be argued that the person’s inattention contributed to the slip-and-fall injury.
If the injured party was at fault, this could affect the person’s ability to obtain compensation, or “damages.”
Under New Jersey’s comparative negligence doctrine, any damages awarded would be reduced according to how much the person’s own carelessness or actions contributed to his or her injuries. If a person was judged to have been 51 percent at fault, the person would be unable to obtain any compensation.
Assuming the injured person was not at fault or not prohibitively a contributor to the injury, the focus would shift back to the property owner and whether he or she (through designees) was negligent.
Here are some questions you would want to have answered in your slip-and-fall case:
- How long did the hazard exist prior to the accident?
- Should the hazard have been identified and/or mitigated prior to the accident?
- If the hazard had been identified but not mitigated, was there adequate signage or other warning about the hazard?
- Does the maintenance staff regularly inspect the premises for hazards, and when was the corridor where the hazard occurred last inspected prior to the accident? Are there records of inspections?
An investigation into the accident would seek to answer these questions.
In the end, the goal would be to prove that:
- You slipped, fell and suffered injury while on the premises in question.
- You had a right to be on the premises.
- A hazard on the premises caused you to slip and fall.
- You suffered financial and/or personal loss from the injury.
- The property owner / designees negligently failed to mitigate or adequately warn about the hazard soon enough to keep you from harm.
Getting Legal Help for a Slip-and-Fall Case in New Jersey
There are infinite ways a person may be injured in a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident. There are also countless reasons why a hazard may occur and cause such an accident.At Davis, Saperstein & Salomon, P.C., we conduct thorough investigations and work aggressively to seek all compensation our clients deserve.
If you have been injured in a slip-and-fall accident caused by someone else’s negligence, you should know that our attorneys have decades of experience with successfully representing people who are hurt in slip-and-fall accidents in New Jersey. We provide free initial consultations. We also charge no legal fees for a case that moves forward unless and until we obtain a settlement or verdict.
If you have been injured in a slip and fall, contact us to discuss your case.