A slip and fall accident can happen anywhere–at work, at home, at a friend’s house, at the shopping mall, or even at your place of worship. Slipping and falling can lead to serious and sometimes permanent injuries, especially for children and the elderly. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration estimates that slip trip and fall accidents account for 15% of all accidental deaths in the United States, which puts them in second place behind car accidents. The good news is that, in many cases, the person or business who owns or manages the land that a person slips and falls on is legally responsible for preventing those kinds of accidents. If they fail to uphold this legal duty and someone gets hurt, they could expose themselves to liability.
Below, we’ll take a look at some of the most common causes of slip and fall accidents, how to prevent them, and the legal justification for holding landowners liable for injuries.
Causes of Slip and Fall Accidents
A few of the most common hazards that can cause slips and falls include:
- Surface conditions, including
- Uneven surfaces with no warning signs
- Recently mopped or waxed floors
- Loose floorboards, rugs, or mats, especially on stairs
- Potholes in parking lots
- Spilled liquids that are not cleaned up
- Splashed grease or oil that is not removed
- Ice that is not salted
- Environmental conditions, including
- Trash or debris on the floor
- Bright light reflecting on a shiny floor that causes glare
- Poor lighting that makes it difficult to see obstacles
- Cords that a run across walkways
- Open desk or cabinet drawers
- Transitions from one type of surface to another, such as from carpet to wood
- Ladders and stairs, including:
- No handrail present or not using a handrail
- Rushing up and down or taking more than one step at a time
- Failure to secure a ladder or have someone hold it
- Using a chair or other piece of furniture instead of a ladder
- Certain occupations, including:
- Workers in the construction industry
- Housekeepers and other custodial staff
- Chefs and other kitchen workers
- Manual laborers
- Factory workers
Prevention of Slip and Fall Accidents for Property Owners
Although slips and falls are very common and can be caused by almost any condition, there are a few ways to reduce the risk of a slip and fall accident.
Reduce wet or slippery surfaces
Reduce the risk of people slipping and falling on your property by mopping up wet surfaces; keeping parking lots and sidewalks repaired; removing ice and snow; using adhesive stripping or anti-skid paint; using moisture-absorbing mats in entrance areas; displaying “wet floor” signs as needed, and cleaning up spills immediately.
Remove obstacles from aisles and walkways
Environmental factors that cause slips and falls can be significantly reduced by keeping all work areas and passageways clean and orderly, avoiding stringing cords and cables across hallways or walking areas, moving boxes and other obstacles out of heavily-trafficked areas, and making sure all employees close cabinet drawers.
Create and maintain proper lighting
Ensure that the premises are lit properly by keeping work areas bright and clean, keeping poorly lit areas clear of clutter and obstructions, keeping areas around light switches clear and accessible, and always turning on a light when entering a darkened room.
Watch where you’re going
It may sound silly to say, but the best way to prevent a painful and costly slip and fall accident while you’re out running errands is to watch where you’re going. There are so many things that can distract you: screaming kids, texting your spouse, drinking your Frappuccino, or answering one last email from your boss; do these things while you are stationary and eliminate a large chunk of the risk of slipping and falling.
Wearing proper shoes
Many slip and fall accidents are caused by wearing shoes that are inappropriate for a particular activity or a particular place. Eliminate this risk by wearing shoes that are appropriate for your surroundings and making sure that your shoelaces are tied at all times. If you’re the type of person to wear unsafe shoes like high heels, then try keeping a pair of flats in your car to change into.
Understand your surroundings
Right along with wearing the proper shoes, is understanding what areas are more likely to cause a fall. For example, a grocery store can be an extra dangerous place for slip and fall accidents. With all the freezers, wet items, and hard floors, one should be extra careful in these places.
Liability for Slip Accidents
Liability for injuries caused by slip and fall accidents is based on negligence. The general idea behind this theory is that all landowners owe others a duty to use reasonable care to prevent injuries on their property. However, what type of duty a landowner owes to a particular person depends upon the person’s status on the property.
Invitees: An invitee is a person who is either: (a) invited to enter the land or property for a purpose that is connected with the business dealings of the landowner, or (b) a member of the public who is on the land for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public. This could include retail shoppers, business guests, and visitors to public parks.
Licensees: There are two types of licensees: invited and uninvited. An invited licensee is someone who is invited to come onto the property by the landowner as a social guest, while an uninvited licensee is someone who is not invited to enter the land, but whose presence it is reasonable under the circumstances, such as a door-to-door salesman or mailman.
Trespassers: A trespasser is a person who has no legal right to be on the landowner’s property whatsoever.
Landowners owe invitees and invited licensees the highest duty of care. For these guests, the law requires that landowners inspect and make safe any dangers they know about or should know about. Landowners owe uninvited licensees a much lower duty of care and are only required to refrain from willful or wanton injury toward the uninvited licensee. “Willful or wanton injury” could include such actions of installing booby traps on the property or setting a vicious dog on the visitor. With one narrow exception, landowners owe trespassers no duty of care beyond the duty to refrain from willful or wanton injury.
Thus, an easy way to think about landowner liability for slip and fall accidents is to split it into two tracks: liability for people who were invited onto the property and liability for people who were not invited onto the property. Landowners owe people who were invited onto the property (invitees and invited licensees) the duty to prevent slips and falls. For people who were not invited onto the property (uninvited licensees and trespassers), landowners owe no such duty.
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