Establishing liability after a slip-and-fall on someone else’s property
A quick quiz: What is the leading cause of injury-related deaths among people over the age of 65?
- Car accidents
- Accidental poisonings
The answer is: none of the above.
Surprisingly, slip-and-falls are the leading cause of death among people over the age of 65. What’s more, slip-and-falls aren’t just a concern for the elderly.
Every year, more than 8 million people of all ages are treated in emergency rooms for serious injuries caused by slip-and-fall accidents.
Common causes of slip-and-fall accidents
In the legal world, the term “slip-and-fall” refers to a personal injury case in which an individual is injured on someone else’s property as a result of a slip (or trip) and fall. These cases fall under the broader category of cases known as premises liability cases.
Slip-and-fall accidents can occur anywhere, but most often occur at the following places:
- Retail stores
- Parking lots
- Private homes
According to UC San Diego Health, there are 3 forces at work in a slip-and-fall case:
- Friction (traction). Friction is a term used to describe the resistance between things (such as the bottom of your shoe and the ground). Shoe treads and spikes increase friction and reduce the chances of slipping and falling.
- Momentum. Momentum is a combination of weight and speed. The more momentum you have (i.e., the more weight and speed you have), the more serious an injury you’ll suffer if you slip and fall.
- Gravity. Gravity is a pulling force. When you fall, gravity is the force that pulls you down to the ground.
There are all sorts of factors that contribute to slip-and-fall accidents. Some common factors include:
- Snow and ice
- Spilled drinks and other slippery substances
- Protruding objects
- Holes or cracks
- Abrupt changes in elevation
- Loose mats
- Poor lighting
5 simple things you can do to avoid a slip-and-fall accident
- Wear proper footwear. Choose shoes with low heels and good tread whenever possible.
- Slow down. Life is not a race—slow down and watch where you’re stepping.
- Avoid distractions. Smartphones aren’t just a problem for drivers. Put your smartphone away when you’re walking (particularly if you’re walking near traffic or somewhere unfamiliar).
- Turn on the lights. Avoid walking in unlit places whenever possible. Similarly, avoid wearing sunglasses inside, and be sure to give your eyes time to adjust when walking from 1 light source to another.
- Exercise. Exercise builds coordination and improves strength and balance.
Establishing liability in an Alabama slip-and-fall case
If you’re injured in a slip-and-fall accident on someone else’s property, you may be able to hold the owner or occupant of the property liable.
To establish liability in Alabama, you typically need to prove the 3 elements of negligence:
- The property owner or occupant had a duty to protect you from harm,
- The property owner or occupant breached their duty to protect you from harm, and
- You were injured as a direct result of their breach.
The specific duty owed by a property owner or occupant depends on your legal status at the time of your slip-and-fall. Consider the following chart:
|Alabama premises liability laws
|A person who is on the premises without permission from the owner.
|Owners and occupiers have a duty to refrain from intentionally injuring trespassers.
|A person who is on the premises for some purpose that commercially benefits the owner or occupier of the premises (e.g., a customer in a retail store).
|Owners and occupiers have a duty to use “reasonable care and diligence” to keep the premises in a safe condition or, if the premises are in a dangerous condition, to give sufficient warning of the dangers. This duty extends to dangers that the owners and occupiers knew or should have known about.
|A person who is on the premises with permission from the owner for their own convenience, curiosity or entertainment (e.g., a social guest).
|Owners and occupiers have a duty to correct or warn against dangerous conditions. However, owners can only be held responsible for dangers they actually knew about.
Mrs. Terrell slipped and fell on some tracked-in rainwater while shopping at Warehouse Groceries. She sued the grocery store for her injuries.
The court acknowledged that Mrs. Terrell was an invitee and the store had a duty to use “reasonable care and diligence” to keep the premises in a safe condition.
However, in ruling in favor of Warehouse Groceries, the court explained that “where the foreign substance is rainwater tracked in by customers and in the absence of unusual accumulations, due care doesn’t require that a storekeeper keep the floor completely free of water.”
The court reasoned that “to require a storekeeper to keep a floor completely dry during a rainstorm or to hold him responsible for every slick place due to tracked-in rainwater would impose an unreasonable standard of care and would, in effect, make him an insurer of the customer's safety.”
Evidence presented at the trial showed there were no large puddles or unusual accumulations of water on the floor. What’s more, Warehouse Groceries had mats inside and outside the entrance as well as an awning over the entrance to reduce the amount of rainwater being tracked into the store.
What happens when you slip and fall at work?
If you’re injured as a result of a slip-and-fall accident at work, you can generally file a workers’ compensation claim.
Workers’ compensation is a form of insurance that provides financial benefits to employees who are injured on the job. Unlike a personal injury lawsuit, the employee doesn’t need to prove that someone was at fault for the accident in order to receive benefits. Rather, the employee simply needs to prove that the injury occurred while they were completing a work-related task.
Workers’ compensation is an exclusive remedy, which means you must file a workers’ compensation claim in lieu of a personal injury claim (assuming you have coverage and someone other than your employer or colleague didn’t cause the fall).
What if you’re partially at fault for your accident?
Alabama has one of the strictest shared fault rules in the country.
Under Alabama’s pure contributory negligence rule, an injured party is barred from recovering ANY DAMAGES if they’re even 1 percent at fault for their accident.
Consider the following example:
While running down the pasta aisle, George slips on a spilled can of pasta sauce. He injures his back and sues Winn-Dixie for $100,000.
Security footage presented at trial shows that the spilled pasta had been on the ground for 6 hours before George entered the store.
The jury finds that Winn Dixie was 98 percent at fault for failing to clean up the spilled pasta. The jury also finds that George is 2 percent at fault for running down the aisle.
Under Alabama’s pure contributory negligence rule, George is prohibited from recovering any damages from Winn-Dixie.
Damages available in Alabama slip-and-fall cases
Slip-and-fall injuries range from minor bumps and bruises to traumatic brain injuries and even death.
Fortunately, slip-and-fall victims can recover 3 types of damages in Alabama:
- Economic damages represent the monetary losses caused by an accident (e.g., medical expenses, lost wages and property damage).
- Non-economic damages represent the non-monetary losses caused by an accident (e.g.,pain and suffering).
- Punitive damages are intended to punish the defendant. Punitive damages are only available in cases in which the defendant acted intentionally.
Slip-and-fall claims and homeowner’s insurance
Most homeowner’s insurance liability policies will cover slip-and-fall accidents that are the result of a homeowner’s negligence.
If the damages exceed the homeowner’s policy limits (typically at least $100,000), the homeowner will be personally liable for the amount that exceeds the policy limits.
Common slip-and-fall accidents that occur in and around residential homes include:
- Slipping on an unshoveled driveway
- Slipping on icy steps
- Tripping on a protruding object (such as a curled rug or exposed sprinkler head)
- Falling when a rotted step breaks
If you slip and fall at someone’s home, you should ask the homeowner for the name of their insurer and report the claim as soon as possible. If you suffered a serious injury, we strongly recommend meeting with an Alabama slip-and-fall lawyer before accepting any settlement offers from the insurer.
Slip-and-fall statute of limitations in Alabama
Alabama has a 2-year statute of limitations for most slip-and-fall claims. In other words, you have 2 years from the date of your fall to file a lawsuit.
If you fail to file a lawsuit within the statute of limitations, you will (with very few exceptions) be forever barred from filing a lawsuit based on the accident.
There are some exceptions to the 2-year deadline. For this reason, it’s important you consult with a personal injury attorney as soon as possible to protect your legal rights.