Legal Guide to a North Carolina Slip and Fall Injury
There are complex premises liability issues related to slip and fall injuries in North Carolina
A slip and fall could result in a minor injury (like a sprain or bruise), but it can also lead to serious conditions such as a head injury, broken hip or spine, or a variety of other issues. North Carolina’s contributory negligence law makes the situation a little more complicated than it might be in another state. Here’s what you should know about a defendant’s liability, your own liability, and how you might be able to recover damages.
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Slip Slidin’ Away... you might remember the song by Paul Simon, but that doesn’t mean you necessarily want to actually have it happen to you. A slip and fall accident can be embarrassing (no one wants to look silly if they miss their footing and splat on the floor). But you’d probably get over that pretty quickly.
Physical injuries, however, can last much longer than a red face.
Slip and fall injury statistics
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers these statistics about falls:
- 1 in 5 falls causes a serious injury like a broken bone or head injury.
- Each year, 3 million older adults in the U.S. are treated in an emergency room for a fall injury.
- There are more than 800,000 hospitalizations a year because of a fall injury.
- There are 300,000 hospitalizations per year of older people being treated for hip fractures.
- More than 95% of hip fractures are caused by a fall.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries.
A fall can result in broken bones, most commonly wrists, arms, ankles, and hips. It can also cause a head injury, which could be especially serious in an older person or someone who takes blood-thinning medication.
There are some medical conditions that make a person more likely to fall. Hazards like broken or uneven steps, slippery conditions on a sidewalk or walkway, debris on the ground, uneven outdoor rugs, sidewalk cracks, and similar issues are just as dangerous.
What to do after a slip and fall injury
- Get medical attention. If you’ve been injured — or if you’re not sure — you should visit a doctor, hospital, or urgent care facility. Sometimes, symptoms of an injury don’t appear right away. That might happen if you’ve suffered whiplash or a concussion (both of which could happen after a slip and fall). It’s important to be evaluated by a physician because if your symptoms don’t appear for a few days (or weeks), it will be harder to prove that they were caused by the accident. You should let your doctor know about the fall and how it happened so it’s included in your medical record.
Enjuris tip: If your injury doesn’t require treatment but it causes you to lose time from work, that’s an important reason to go to the doctor. For example, if you sprained an ankle and there’s no treatment except keeping your weight off of it and icing, there’s probably nothing more you need to do.
But, what if you’re a postal carrier whose job requires you to be on your feet all day?
You might need to take a week off from work while your injury heals, even though there’s no specific treatment required. If your doctor has documented that you need to stay off your feet and stay out of work for a week, that’s the proof you need in order to file a claim.
- Obtain evidence at the scene. If you’re able to do so, take pictures or video of any conditions that could have caused you to fall. If the sidewalk was cracked or uneven, if there were obstacles that you didn’t notice, photos that can serve as evidence. A picture is worth a thousand words!
Photos should include various angles of the sidewalk and the surrounding area. If there’s a specific defect like a crack, debris, or other visible reason why you fell, make sure to photograph it. You should also snap photos of your own shoes and clothes to document that you didn’t have anything loose or hanging that could’ve caused you to trip.
- Gather witnesses’ contact information. If you’re in a public place and someone saw you fall, ask for their name, phone number, and email address. If you’re in or outside a store or business, ask if there are surveillance cameras that might have captured your accident. Do this quickly, though... often, surveillance footage is deleted fairly quickly if the owner isn’t aware that there’s a reason to keep it.
- Determine who owns or controls the property. Premises liability is the area of law that governs negligent maintenance of property that causes someone to be injured. Make sure you note the exact location where you fell, especially if it was on a sidewalk, so you know who’s supposed to be keeping the area safe.
- Consult a premises liability lawyer near you. Premises liability law can be complicated, particularly when it involves a slip and fall. If your or a loved one were seriously injured and need help paying for medical bills, it’s time to meet with an attorney in your area who can walk you through your legal rights and options step-by-step
North Carolina contributory negligence
The key to successfully recovering damages in a sidewalk accident is establishing the defendant’s negligence. That means you need to show that their action or inaction was the direct cause of your sidewalk fall.
Each state follows 1 of 4 fault systems
: pure contributory negligence, pure comparative negligence, modified comparative fault (50% rule) or modified comparative fault (51% rule). This is how the courts handle personal injury claims with respect to negligence. In most states, the plaintiff can recover damages even if they were partially at fault for the accident.
North Carolina follows a pure contributory negligence standard, which means you can only recover damages for an injury if the court finds that you didn’t contribute to any portion of the injury.
Here are a couple of examples to show why this rule matters in a slip and fall case:
Shopper Shelby was in a hurry to grab an ice cream cake at the store for her son’s birthday party. She was dressed up from a business meeting she’d had earlier that day and was wearing stiletto-style high heels, even though she kept “comfortable” shoes in the car to change.
Shelby was in such a hurry to make it home on time that she didn’t bother changing her shoes and she darted into the store still wearing heels that she knew weren’t as stable as flat shoes.
As Shelby dashed through the store with her cake, her heel caught on a tiny corner of linoleum tile that was sticking up on the floor and she fell, resulting in several broken bones.
Walker William was heading into the same store and buying groceries for a barbecue he was planning for the afternoon.
He was slowly and deliberately choosing his items, and wasn’t in any particular hurry. He was also wearing rubber-soled sneakers with plenty of traction and support.
But as William completed his shopping and headed for the checkout, the edge of his rubber sole caught on the same corner of the tile that was sticking up and he fell, resulting in a head injury.
These are both hypothetical scenarios, but they could each have very different results in a personal injury lawsuit in North Carolina.
The combination of Shelby’s shoes and the fact that she was running through the store might mean that she was partially negligent and contributed to the cause of her own injury. In some states, she might recover damages if it’s determined that her behavior was only a small percentage of the reason why she fell, but she likely wouldn’t recover any damages in North Carolina because of this state’s pure contributory negligence law.
On the other hand, the court might find that William did nothing to contribute to his own accident, and he would be eligible to recover damages if the condition was the result of the store’s negligence.
What contributes to negligence in a slip and fall case?
The owner of a property might try to claim that the plaintiff shouldn’t recover damages because they:
- Weren’t paying attention because of texting, being on a mobile phone, or were distracted for any other reason.
- Ignored signs that warned of an unsafe condition.
- Were illegally on the premises (i.e. were in an area that wasn’t open to the public or where they weren’t permitted to be).
- Were wearing shoes or clothes that weren’t safe or suitable for the area, or that were inherently unsafe or slippery.
These defenses, and others, can make it difficult to recover damages in a North Carolina personal injury case for a slip and fall accident. This is why it’s important to consult with an experienced injury attorney in your area if you’re considering such a case.
North Carolina premises liability law
“Premises liability” refers to a property owner or manager’s responsibility to maintain safe conditions for visitors. That means anyone who is legally on the property — such as an invited guest, employee, customer, tenant, or person in a public area like a park — is protected under North Carolina tort law. However, the law usually does not protect someone who isn’t legally permitted to be on a property, like a trespasser.
A property owner or manager has a duty of reasonable care to a lawful visitor to prevent unnecessary exposure to a dangerous condition or to warn that a hazard is present.
Elements of a North Carolina slip and fall claim
In order to bring a successful premises liability claim for a slip and fall injury, you’ll need to prove that:
- The property owner owed you a duty of care (and that you were a lawful visitor to the property).
- There was a dangerous condition.
- The property owner knew or should’ve known about the dangerous condition and that it could potentially cause an injury.
- The property owner did not take reasonable action to correct or warn about the condition.
- You were injured because of the dangerous condition.
- Your injuries cost you money (medical bills, lost wages, or other recoverable damages).
Common causes of slip and fall accidents
A slip and fall can happen in a variety of ways, but here are some of the most common:
- Slippery substance on the floor (including ice or snow, indoors or outdoors)
- Worn or defective carpets, tile, or other floor covering
- Insufficient lighting
- Uneven walking areas
- Defective stairs, railings, escalators, or other walkways
Types of damages from a slip and fall injury
In a personal injury lawsuit, damages fall into 2 main categories: economic and non-economic.
Economic damages are those that have a specific cost to the plaintiff. In other words, anything resulting from the accident that you must pay for in order to repair your property, physical, or financial condition should be compensable.
Economic damages might include:
- Medical treatment like hospital stays, doctor visits, diagnostic testing, and prescription medications
- Therapies and assistive devices (like a wheelchair, ramp, or walker)
- Lost wages or loss of future earnings
Non-economic damages are usually for pain and suffering. You can’t put a dollar value on physical pain, but you might experience emotional distress from these or other life changes:
- Inability to participate in activities or hobbies you enjoyed before the accident
- Becoming incapable of caring for your children
- Inability to sleep because of physical discomfort
- Experiencing a loss of consortium
North Carolina statute of limitations for slip and fall lawsuits
The statute of limitations for most personal injuries in North Carolina is 3 years, but there are some exceptions, such as if it’s a wrongful death claim or if the injured person is a minor.
That means you have 3 years from the date of the accident in order to file a claim. If you miss that time frame, the court doesn’t have to hear your case.
For any injury claim, though, it’s best to file as soon as possible after the accident. The longer you wait, the more “stale” your evidence becomes and your witnesses could become unavailable. Your chances of recovering damages are higher if your case is filed sooner, rather than later.
North Carolina slip and fall accidents at work
Workers’ compensation insurance benefits cover a slip and fall accident that happens at work or while you’re performing a work-related duty or task.
The big difference between workers’ compensation and personal injury lawsuits is that workers’ comp doesn’t rely on negligence in order for you to recover damages.
Workers’ compensation is a no-fault system of compensation so an employee can recover benefits without having to prove fault (and even if the worker was partially or wholly at fault for the accident).
To file a workers’ compensation claim, you need to show that:
- The accident happened at work or while performing work-related tasks.
- Your injury was caused by the accident.
- Your injury required medical treatment, or that you had to take time off from work (or modify your job position or duties) during your recovery.
Here are some additional resources if you need to file a North Carolina workers’ compensation claim:
Finding the best attorney for a North Carolina slip and fall accident
If you’ve slipped and fallen (or endured another type of injury because of a defective roadway, sidewalk, or other condition related to someone else’s property), you’ll want to find the right North Carolina personal injury lawyer who can properly handle your claim.
The facts of your case that can be presented as evidence will be crucial. Because of North Carolina pure contributory negligence standards, your lawyer will need to present the evidence in a way that proves that you weren’t negligent at the time of the accident.
Unfortunately, although the premise of personal injury is that the plaintiff proves the defendant’s negligence, sometimes things get turned around — and it could be you who has to demonstrate that you weren’t at fault.
Another reason why finding the right attorney is important is that if your injuries were severe or left you with lasting disabilities or issues, you want to be sure that your claim is for enough damages to cover your present and future expenses.
The Enjuris North Carolina law firm directory is your source for finding a lawyer who’s ready to handle your slip and fall accident case.
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