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Wet floor sign rules for slip and fall cases
We hope that if you slip and fall in a commercial establishment, you’ll hop right back up.
Unfortunately, many people aren’t so lucky.
Commercial establishments have a duty to warn customers about wet or otherwise slippery floors. In most cases, establishments accomplish this by putting up an A-frame “wet floor” sign. But putting up a sign doesn’t necessarily mean a customer can’t still sue the establishment if they slip and fall.
Let’s take a closer look at the impact of “wet floor” signs on slip and fall lawsuits.
Are commercial establishments required to use “wet floor” signs?
Premises liability laws require commercial establishments (such as grocery stores, restaurants, and sports stadiums) to protect customers by warning them about dangerous conditions on their property.
One of the most common dangerous conditions found in commercial establishments is a wet floor.
Most commercial establishments warn customers about wet floors by putting up “wet floor” signs, but you might be surprised to learn that the law doesn’t require commercial establishments to put up signs. Commercial establishments can warn customers about wet floors in a host of ways, including putting up orange cones, taping off the area, or having an employee stand in front of the wet section.
Can I sue for a slip and fall injury if a commercial establishment failed to put up a “wet floor” sign?
To sue for a slip and fall injury, you need to prove that:
- The establishment was aware of the wet floor or should have been aware of the wet floor,
- The establishment failed to warn you about the wet floor (by, for example, putting up a sign), and
- You injured yourself as a result of slipping on the wet floor.
Slip and fall cases are much easier to win if you can prove that the establishment was aware of the wet floor. One way to prove this is to show that the establishment caused the floor to be wet. For example, if a grocery store employee mopped an aisle, it’s obvious that the establishment was aware of the wet floor.
Understandably, commercial establishments aren’t expected to be aware of a wet floor the second the floor becomes wet. If the commercial establishment wasn’t aware of the wet floor when you slipped and fell, you’ll need to prove that the establishment should have been aware of the wet floor. You can prove this by establishing that:
- An employee was in the immediate area of the wet floor and should have seen the wet floor, or
- The establishment failed to exercise reasonable care by periodically inspecting the premises and keeping the premises in a safe condition.
Let’s look at 3 examples:
Jane is in the checkout line at a retail store. While the cashier is scanning her items and the bagger is bagging her items, Jane pulls a bottle of shampoo from the display in front of the checkout counter and accidentally drops it. The cap comes loose and the bright green shampoo spills out onto the floor.
Jane pays for her items without saying anything about the shampoo and leaves the store.
Twenty minutes later, Barbara pushes her cart into the same checkout line and slips on the shampoo. Barbara fractures her hip as a result of the fall.
In the above example, Barbara would probably be successful if she sued the retail store because there were 2 employees in the immediate area (the cashier and bagger) and they should have seen the bright green substance, even if Jane didn’t tell them about the spill.
Larry is shopping at a grocery store. He pulls a bottle of honey from the shelf and accidentally drops it. Larry puts the bottle back on the shelf and continues shopping.
Unbeknownst to Larry, the cap of the bottle loosened when it hit the floor and some of the honey seeped out onto the floor.
Later that morning, Albert walks down the same aisle and slips on the honey. He breaks his arm and sues the grocery store.
At trial, Larry proves that the grocery store didn’t have any inspection or cleaning procedures in place. For example, no employees were tasked with periodically walking the floor and fixing any problems. What’s more, security footage revealed that the spilled honey was present in the aisle for 2 hours before Albert slipped.
In the above example, Albert’s lawsuit would probably be successful because the grocery store failed to exercise reasonable care to inspect and keep the premises safe.
Jennifer carries a water bottle into a pet food store and accidentally drops the bottle in the front of the store. When the water bottle hits the ground, a little bit of water spills out. Jennifer quickly picks up the water bottle and continues into the store.
Jim walks into the store 30 seconds after Jennifer and slips on the spilled water. He breaks his wrist and sues the pet food store.
At trial, the store proves that all of its employees were toward the back of the store when Jennifer dropped the water bottle. The store also proves that a designated employee walks the store every 30 minutes to inspect the store and fix any problems.
In the above example, Jim’s lawsuit would probably not be successful.
Does the presence of a “wet floor” sign prevent me from filing a slip and fall lawsuit?
A wet floor sign doesn’t automatically absolve a commercial establishment of liability. If you slip and fall even though there’s a sign, you might still be able to recover damages if you can prove that:
- The sign was hidden or there was inadequate lighting. If the sign was difficult to see, you might still be able to recover damages.
- The sign was poorly positioned. If, for example, the sign took up one half of the aisle, but the spill extended into the second half of the aisle, you might still be able to recover damages.
- There was another defect that you were not warned about. If you watched your footing because of a wet floor but ended up slipping on shards of glass, you might still be able to recover damages.
- There was no other way to go. If you had no alternative but to proceed over the wet floor, then the property owner may have been negligent by not roping off the area or providing you with an alternate route.
Keep in mind that in most cases the defendant will argue that you were at least partially at fault for not seeing or ignoring the “wet floor” sign.
Liability for slip and fall damages
If you’re found to be partially at fault, whether or not you can recover any damages depends on the shared fault rule that your state follows. There are 3 types of shared fault rules:
- In states that follow the pure contributory negligence rule, you’re barred from recovering any damages if you’re even 1% at fault.
- In states that follow the pure comparative negligence rule, the amount of damages you can recover is reduced by your percentage of fault.
- In states that follow the modified comparative fault rule, the amount of damages you can recover is reduced by your percentage of fault. What’s more, if you’re considered 50% or more at fault (or 51% or more in some states), you’re barred from recovering any damages.
Fault Systems by State
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Steps to take after a slip and fall accident
There are a few steps you should take immediately after a slip and fall accident regardless of whether or not a “wet floor” sign was present:
- Seek medical treatment. Taking care of your injuries is the most important thing you can do. What’s more, visiting a medical provider right away reduces the chances the defendant can successfully argue that you weren’t really injured.
- Report the accident. Report the accident to the manager or property owner. Most employees are required to fill out a form when someone is injured on the premises. Having a copy of this form will help you prove that the slip and fall occurred.
- Gather evidence. If it’s safe to do so, gather as much evidence as possible. This includes taking photographs of the scene and getting the contact information of any witnesses.
- Seek legal counsel. Finally, it’s a good idea to contact a personal injury attorney as soon as possible. Most initial consultations are free. You can find a personal injury attorney near you using our free online directory.
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