Establishing slip and fall liability in the Golden State
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 1 out of every 5 falls results in a serious injury.
Let’s take a look at what constitutes a slip and fall accident, how you can prove negligence, and what you need to be aware of when filing a personal injury lawsuit in California based on a slip and fall accident.
Examples of slip and fall accidents and injuries
The term “slip and fall accident” is a legal term used to describe an injury that occurs when a person falls on the premises of another. For example, you might slip and fall on a spilled drink when entering a coffee shop, or you might slip on a pool of water in the breakroom of your place of employment.
There are 2 main “types” of slips:
- A heel slip is the most common cause of a slip-related fall. At the end of a stride, as the leading heel contacts the walkway, the heel slides forward. The momentum of the person increases the slip and the leading leg is unable to support the person’s body weight.
- A toe slip occurs when a person’s trailing foot slips at push-off. A toe slip rarely results in a fall, since most of the person’s body weight has already shifted to their lead leg.
According to the CDC, several conditions frequently contribute to falling. These include:
- Lower body weakness
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Difficulties with walking and balance
- Use of medicines, such as tranquilizers, sedatives, or antidepressants.
- Vision problems
- Foot pain or inappropriate footwear
- Hazards such as broken steps, throw rugs, liquids
Regardless of how a slip and fall accident occurs, it can result in serious injury and even death in rare cases. Some of the most common slip and fall injuries include:
- Broken pelvic bones
- Back and neck injuries
- Wrist, arm, and ankle injuries
Establishing fault in slip and fall cases
Most slip and fall cases that occur outside of work require you to prove that the landowner was negligent in order to recover damages. In California, this means you have to show that the landowner failed to exercise reasonable care in keeping the premises reasonably safe or failed to warn of dangers that were known or knowable.
What exactly does this mean?
It’s not always clear whether a landowner has exercised “reasonable care” to keep the premises “reasonably safe.” In general, a landowner is held to a reasonable person standard. As a result, the judge or jury must decide whether the landowner used the care that “a reasonably prudent person in the same circumstances” would have used.
Let’s look at a common example to clarify this important standard.
In the above example, the judge or jury will have to determine whether the grocery store owner (or their employees) took “reasonable care” to keep the premises “reasonably safe.”
To reach this decision, there’s one question the judge or jury will want to answer in order to make this determination:
How often did the defendant inspect the floors?
Because the premises was a self-service grocery store, the chances of something falling on the floor were great. As a result, a reasonable person would inspect the floors frequently.
If the evidence shows that the defendant inspected the floors every 6 hours, the court would likely find that the defendant didn’t exercise the care that a reasonably prudent person would have exercised. On the other hand, if the defendant inspected the floors for spills every 30 minutes, the court would likely find that the defendant took reasonable care to keep the premises reasonably safe.
Now, let’s change the facts of the example slightly. Say the customer can prove that the defendant knew about the spilled soup.
How does this change things?
If the defendant knew about the spilled soup, the court will still have to determine whether the defendant took reasonable steps to make the premises safe.
To reach this decision, the judge or jury will want to ask the following questions:
Did the defendant put up a warning sign while taking steps to clean up the spill?
If the defendant knew about the spill and didn’t put up a warning sign (or require an employee to stand beside the spill while the defendant retrieved a warning sign or a mop), the court will likely find that the defendant failed to take reasonable steps to keep the premises reasonably safe.
You can use our free online directory to locate a slip and fall attorney in your area.
What about slip and falls in the workplace?
If you’re injured at work in California as a result of a slip and fall, you can generally file a workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance system. This means you can recover damages regardless of who’s at fault for the accident.
To receive workers’ compensation benefits, you’ll need to file a claim and prove that:
- The injury occurred while performing a work task,
- The injury is one covered under the California workers’ compensation laws,
- You didn’t intentionally cause your injury, and
- The injury wasn’t the result of your drug or alcohol use.
What if you’re partially responsible for your slip and fall accident?
California follows the pure comparative fault rule. Under this rule, your damage award will be reduced according to your percentage of fault.
Here’s an example:
The plaintiff walks into the lobby texting on her phone. Because she’s texting, the plaintiff doesn’t see the sign or the spill and she slips. The court awards the plaintiff $100,000 in damages, but determines that the plaintiff was 80% at fault for the accident.
Under the pure comparative fault rule, the plaintiff would only recover $20,000 from the defendant.
Slip and fall defenses
Common defenses in slip and fall cases include:
- The plaintiff was a trespasser
- The dangerous condition was obvious
- The plaintiff wasn’t paying attention (e.g., texting and walking) or otherwise behaved in a manner that increased the risk of danger (e.g., running through a building where running is specifically prohibited).
What damages are available in California slip and fall cases?
In a California personal injury lawsuit, both economic and non-economic damages are available. Economic damages include medical costs, income, and property loss. Non-economic damages include pain and suffering, and emotional distress.
Let’s take a closer look:
- Medical treatment. A slip and fall injury award almost always includes the cost of medical care, both to repay what you’ve already spent and to pay for estimated future costs.
- Income. If you miss work because of your injury, you can recover the lost wages.
- Property loss. You might damage more than just your body in a slip and fall accident. Perhaps you’re carrying an expensive bottle of wine that shatters when you fall. You can recover damages for lost property in your slip and fall action.
- Emotional distress. Emotional distress damages compensate a plaintiff for the non-physical effects of an injury. This might include fear, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, or other psychological conditions that arise following a trauma or injury.
If the defendant’s actions were particularly egregious or careless, the court might determine that the defendant needs to be punished. In that situation, the court awards punitive damages to you. In California, punitive damages are sometimes referred to as “exemplary” damages.
California law requires that the court consider 3 factors when evaluating whether punitive damages should be awarded:
- Reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct
- The amount of compensatory damages awarded or actual harm suffered by the plaintiff
- The defendant’s financial condition
Slip and fall statute of limitations
A “statute of limitations” is a law that limits the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. Under California Code of Civil Procedure section 3351, you generally have 2 years from the date of your injury to file a personal injury lawsuit based on negligence.
However, there’s an important exception.
If you’re suing the government, you have to file what’s called an “administrative claim” within 6 months of the date of the injury. Once you’ve filed the administrative claim, the government must respond within 45 days. If your claim is denied, you can file a lawsuit within 6 months from the date of the denial. If you don’t receive a response, you can file the lawsuit within 2 years of when the injury occurred.
When you can sue the government for a slip and fall injury
Wondering when you would sue the government?
Some slip and falls occur on public property (such as a public sidewalk or town hall steps). In these cases, your lawsuit may involve the government. There are special considerations to keep in mind whenever you sue the government.