What you need to know about slip and fall laws in the Grand Canyon state
If you slip and fall on someone else’s property, you may have a valid insurance claim or personal injury lawsuit against the owner of the property. This is because property owners are required to keep their property reasonably safe. In Arizona, the most common slip and fall cases occur in commercial buildings like grocery stores and retail stores.
This article looks at slip and fall statistics, what you must prove in order to be compensated for a slip and fall, and some common defenses to slip and fall claims.
Slip and fall examples and statistics
There are all sorts of variables that might lead to a slip and fall accident. Some common causes include:
- Icy sidewalks
- Spilled drinks
- Protruding objects
- Holes or cracks in floors
Regardless of how a slip and fall accident occurs, it can result in serious injuries. Some of the most common injuries associated with slip and falls include:
- Broken hips
- Broken pelvic bones
- Back and spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Neck injuries
- Wrist, arm, and ankle fractures
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 out of every 5 falls results in a serious injury, such as a broken bone or head injury. Falls are also the most common cause of traumatic brain injury.
In addition to the serious health consequences, falls can be extremely costly. According to the CDC, roughly $50 billion per year is spent treating falls in the United States. The average hospital bill per fall is just over $30,000, and the cost of treatment generally goes up with age.
Establishing fault in Arizona slip and fall cases
Slip and fall claims are almost always negligence claims. This means that in order to establish liability for your slip and fall injury, you’ll have to prove 4 elements:
- Duty. You must prove that the defendant owed you a duty of care.
- Breach. You must prove that the defendant breached their duty of care.
- Causation. You must prove that your injury was caused by the defendant’s breach.
- Damages. You must prove that you actually suffered an injury.
When it comes to slip and fall cases, the focus of litigation is generally on the duty the defendant owed and whether the defendant breached that duty.
Arizona property owners must take certain measures to ensure that their property is safe for visitors. The measures that an owner must take depend on the status of the visitor. Visitors are divided into 3 categories:
- Invitee. A business invitee is someone who enters the property for a business purpose (e.g., most customers are business invitees). The property owner owes an invitee a duty of “reasonable care” to keep the property “reasonably safe.”
- Licensee. A licensee is someone who enters the property with permission but for their own purpose (e.g., most social guests are licensees). The property owner must warn the licensee of any dangerous condition that creates an unreasonable risk of harm so long as (1) the property owner knows about the condition, and (2) the licensee is not likely to discover it.
- Trespasser. A trespasser is someone who enters the property without permission. Property owners don’t owe trespassers any duty of care unless the trespasser is a child. In that case, the attractive nuisance doctrine applies and the landowner must exercise reasonable care to avoid a reasonably foreseeable risk of harm to children caused by artificial conditions on the land.
The vast majority of slip and fall claims involve invitees. As a consequence, the following questions most often arise:
- What must be done to keep the property reasonably safe?
- Is putting a warning sign next to a wet floor sufficient?
- How quickly must a property owner pick up a spilled drink?
There’s no easy answer to these questions.
Determining whether a property owner took care to keep the property reasonably safe will depend on the specific facts of each case. Nevertheless, there are some general rules to keep in mind:
- A property owner has no duty to warn an invitee of a dangerous condition that’s “open and obvious.” An “open and obvious” condition is one that would have been clear to any reasonable person. However, a property owner might have a duty to warn the invitee if the owner created a distraction that prevents the invitee from seeing the dangerous condition. For example, if a customer falls into a large hole because they were looking at a display of television sets arranged nearby, the owner may be liable.
- In the case of a foreign object that falls on a store’s floor (such as a spilled soft drink), the owner isn’t liable unless there’s some evidence that the object was on the ground long enough for store employees to become aware of its presence and have a reasonable opportunity to clean it up.
- A property owner may avoid liability if the invitee could have avoided the injury by taking an alternative path. For example, if there are 2 entrances to a store and only one of them has ice in front of the entrance, the property owner won’t be responsible for a slip and fall if the invitee decides to enter through the entryway covered with ice.
Slip and falls on public property
If you slip and fall on public property (such as inside a public park), your case will be treated differently. Historically, individuals were completely barred from suing the government for negligence. In Arizona, this is no longer the case. Nevertheless, there are strict notice and filing requirements that must be complied with when suing a public entity.
Comparative negligence in slip and fall cases
What happens if both you and the defendant are partially responsible for your injuries?
Arizona follows the pure comparative fault theory. Under this theory, the amount of damages a plaintiff can recover is reduced by a percentage that reflects their own degree of fault—no matter what that percentage may be.
Let’s say a store fails to post a sign warning of a wet floor. But say your child was also running through the store at top speed when they slipped and fell, seriously injuring themself in the process. A judge or jury may find that your child is 20% at fault for the accident and that the defendant is 80% at fault. Under Arizona’s pure comparative fault theory, you would only be able to recover 80% of total damages from the defendant.
Arizona statute of limitations
According to Arizona statute of limitations rules, you have 2 years from the date your injury occurred to file a personal injury lawsuit. If, however, someone died as a result of the slip and fall, the family of the deceased would have 2 years from the date of the death (which might be different than the date of the fall) to file a wrongful death lawsuit.