What you need to know about slip and fall laws in Big Sky Country
From infancy to your twilights years, you're going to fall. Alot.
Fortunately, most falls aren't serious and result in minor bumps and bruises, or no injuries at all. But 1 out of 5 falls causes a serious injury, and falls are the leading cause of death among those 65 and older. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that there will be 7 fall deaths every hour by 2030.
If you're injured as a result of a fall in Montana, you might be entitled to compensation. If you fell at work, you may be able to file a workers' compensation claim. If you fell outside of work, you'll likely have to file a personal injury lawsuit and prove that the owner of the premises was negligent.
In this article, we'll take a look at what you can do to receive compensation after a slip and fall accident in Montana.
Slip and fall examples and injuries
The term “slip and fall” is used to describe a broad range of situations. You might enter a fast food restaurant and slip and fall on a spilled drink. You might slip on ice while walking down a sidewalk in Billings, or you might slip on a drill bit that one of your colleagues dropped on the floor.
Regardless of how a slip and fall accident occurs, it can result in serious injuries. Some of the most common slip and fall injuries include:
- Broken hips
- Broken pelvic bones
- Back and neck injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Wrist, arm, and ankle injuries
Establishing fault in Montana 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. This means you have to show that the landowner failed to maintain their land in a reasonably safe condition or failed to warn of dangers that are known or knowable.
What constitutes a “reasonably safe condition” or a “knowable danger”?
Well, that's up to the judge or jury to decide and it's not always clear. However, the standard that's used is that of a “reasonable person.” In other words, would a reasonable person consider the land safe? Would a reasonable person have known about the danger?
Let’s look at an example:
During the discovery phase of the case, Rachel learns (through viewing security footage) that the liquid substance had been on the floor for 3 hours before Rachel slipped, and one of the cashiers had stepped over the substance an hour before Rachel slipped.
In the above example, Goodwill would likely be found negligent. Remember, a landowner has a duty to maintain their premises in a reasonably safe condition and to warn of dangers that are known or knowable. In the example, Goodwill failed to clean up the spill (maintain their land in a reasonably safe condition) or put up a “caution wet floor” sign (warn of knowable dangers).
The only question this example might raise is whether the danger was “knowable.” In this case, the evidence showed that the substance had been on the floor for 3 hours and that one of the employees walked directly over the substance.
Accordingly, even if Goodwill didn't have actual knowledge of the spill, they should have known about the spill. If the substance had only been on the floor for a couple of minutes, Goodwill might not be found negligent.
Slip and falls on public property
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.
Before filing your lawsuit, you must send a notice of claim to the appropriate agency. If you fail to do so, your claim may be dismissed.
Also, the statute of limitations for personal injury lawsuits involving a government entity are different than most other injury cases, meaning you have less time to file a claim.
When suing the government, certain award limitations might also apply. Most notably, a public entity or employee can't be held liable for an amount greater than $750,000 for each claim and $1.5 million for each occurrence.
Slip and falls in the workplace
If you're injured at work in Montana 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 that you can recover damages regardless of who's at fault for the accident.
What if you're partially responsible for your slip and fall accident?
In some cases, you may be partially responsible for your slip and fall accident.
For example, if you're running through a store and slip on a spilled drink, the owner of the store may argue that you were partially at fault for the accident because you were moving through the store carelessly and might have seen the spill had you been walking.
Montana follows the modified 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 – so long as the percentage doesn't exceed 50%.
If the plaintiff's percentage of fault exceeds 50%, the plaintiff can't recover ANY damages.
What damages can be recovered in a slip and fall accident in Montana?
In a Montana personal injury case, there are 3 types of damages available:
- Economic damages are the monetary damages you suffer. These include past and future medical expenses, past and future lost wages, and anything else that has a specific “price tag” attached.
- Non-economic damages refer to losses that don't have a specific dollar value, such as pain and suffering.
- Punitive damages are those damages that are awarded to punish the defendant when the defendant acted with actual malice.
Preventing slips, trips and falls
Every 29 minutes in the United States, and older adult is treated in the emergency department for a fall-related injury. Fortunately, evidence shows that fall prevention programs reduce falls among elderly people by at least 31%.
The Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services has worked with several local agencies to implement such a program. The program is called “Stepping On” and the details can be found here.
The CDC also has a number of suggestions to help you avoid falls:
- Talk to your doctor. Ask your doctor to review your medicines to see if any might make you dizzy or sleepy. Also, ask your doctor about taking vitamin D supplements (vitamin D affects bone and muscle health and reduces the risk of falls).
- Do strength and balance exercises. Do exercises that make your legs strong and improve your balance. Tai Chi and yoga are good examples.
- Have your eyes checked. Be sure to have your eyes checked by an eye doctor at least once a year.
- Make your home safer. Get rid of things you can trip over. Install grab bars inside and outside your tub or shower and next to the toilet. Put railings on both sides of the stairs. Make sure your home has lots of light.
Looking for a personal injury attorney to handle your slip and fall case? Take a look at our free online directory.
See our guide Choosing a personal injury attorney.