Learn how to prove fault when you slip and fall on someone else’s property
If you slip and fall on someone else's property, you may be able to file a "slip and fall lawsuit" against the owner of the property to recover damages.
A number of South Carolina laws—from premises liability laws to modified comparative fault laws—impact your ability to file a slip and fall lawsuit and recover damages.
Let's take a closer look.
How common are slip and fall accidents?
Slip and fall accidents are incredibly common. On average, slip and falls account for more than 1 million hospital visits in the United States every year.
Slip and falls don't always lead to lawsuits, but the number of slip and fall lawsuits filed (along with the compensation received in slip and fall cases) has risen steadily since 1994.
- The medical costs associated with falls in South Carolina average roughly $671 million annually.
- Approximately 27% of South Carolinians 65 and older reported falling at least once in 2018.
- Roughly 1 out of every 5 falls causes a serious injury, such as a broken bone or head injury.
- In 2019, 880 workers died in falls and 244,000 were injured badly enough to require time off of work.
- Walmart reports approximately 1,000 customer injuries per day due to people slipping on water or merchandise spilled on the floor.
Who's liable for your slip and fall accident?
To establish that a property owner is liable for the injuries you suffered in a slip and fall accident, you typically have to prove the 3 elements of negligence:
- The property owner had a duty to protect you from harm,
- The property owner breached their duty to protect you from harm, and
- You were injured as a direct result of their breach.
The focus of slip and fall litigation is generally on the duty owed by the property owner.
In South Carolina, the specific duties owed by property owners depend on the status of the plaintiff at the time they fell:
|Classification||Definition||Duty owed by property owner|
|Invitee||An invitee is an individual who is invited or permitted to enter the premises for the benefit of the property owner (for example, a customer in a grocery store).||A property owner owes an invitee the highest degree of care, which includes the duty to locate and fix (or provide a warning about) any dangerous conditions on the premises.|
|Licensee||A licensee is an individual who is on the premises with permission from the property owner for their own convenience, curiosity, or entertainment (for example, a social guest).||A property owner owes a licensee a duty to use reasonable care to conduct activities on the land so as not to harm the licensee, and to warn the licensee of any concealed dangerous conditions or activities which are known to the property owner.|
|Trespasser||A trespasser is an individual who is on the premises without permission from the owner.||A property owner only owes a trespasser a duty to refrain from willfully injuring the trespasser.|
Slip and fall accidents often occur in retail stores, such as grocery stores, drug stores, and department stores. Retail store customers are considered "invitees," which means retail store employees have a duty to "locate and fix" any dangerous conditions that might cause a slip and fall accident.
However, retail store employees aren't expected to locate and repair dangerous conditions the exact moment they arise. Consider the following hypothetical scenario:
Is the grocery store liable?
Because Ruth is an invitee, the grocery store owes her a duty to locate and fix (or warn her about) any dangerous conditions. The puddle is definitely a dangerous condition.
However, the law doesn't require employees to position themselves in every square inch of the store to look for spills and clean them up immediately. If the mister malfunctioned and caused the puddle seconds before Ruth walked into the grocery store, the court probably won't hold the grocery liable for failing to clean up the puddle.
On the other hand, if the puddle was present for 60 minutes before Ruth walked into the grocery store, or if an employee knew about the malfunctioning mister but made no effort to clean it up or warn customers, then the court will probably hold the grocery store liable.
In other words, slip and fall cases tend to be very fact-specific. Supporting evidence, such as witness testimony and security footage, is critical.
What happens when a slip and fall accident occurs at work?
Workers' compensation provides financial benefits to employees injured on the job. In South Carolina, almost all employers with 4 or more employees (full or part-time) are required by law to provide workers' compensation insurance.
If you slip and fall at work, you will, in most cases, file a workers' compensation claim instead of a personal injury lawsuit.
Unlike a personal injury lawsuit, you don't need to prove fault to receive workers' compensation benefits. Instead, you simply must establish that:
- Your employer carries workers' compensation,
- Your injury occurred during the course and scope of your employment, and
- Your injury is covered by workers' compensation (most injuries are covered).
If your employer doesn't have workers' compensation or your slip and fall was caused by the actions of a third party (someone other than your employer or colleagues), you may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit.
What if you're partially at fault for your slip and fall accident?
South Carolina follows the modified comparative fault rule, which means that the plaintiff's damages will be reduced by their percentage of fault. What's more, if the plaintiff is 50% or more at fault, the plaintiff won't be able to recover any damages.
What damages can you recover in a South Carolina slip and fall case
In South Carolina, plaintiffs may be able to recover 3 types of damages in a premises liability case:
- Economic damages include the monetary losses caused by the accident (medical expenses, lost wages, property damage)
- Non-economic damages include the non-monetary losses caused by the accident (pain and suffering, emotional distress, loss of consortium)
- Punitive damages are meant to punish the defendant and are only available in cases where the defendant acted willfully or recklessly
What is the statute of limitations for a slip and fall case in South Carolina?
South Carolina has a statute of limitations, which sets forth the amount of time you have to file a lawsuit. If you fail to file a lawsuit by the deadline, you are permanently barred from filing the lawsuit.
For most slip and fall cases, the statute of limitations is 3 years. In other words, you have 3 years from the date of your injury to file your lawsuit.
If you sue the government (perhaps you slipped and fell in a public library or post office), you must do so under the South Carolina Tort Claims Act. The South Carolina Tort Claims Act gives plaintiffs 2 years to file a lawsuit (although this can be extended to 3 years if the plaintiff files a verified petition within 1 year).
What to do after a slip and fall accident
If your slip and fall was the result of the property owner's negligence, you have a right to seek compensation for your injuries by filing a lawsuit. Unfortunately, the property owner and its insurance company will likely dispute your claim or at least try to pay you less than you deserve.
To give yourself the best chance to recover the damages you deserve, take the following steps immediately after a slip and fall accident.
5 steps to take after a slip and fall accident
Step 1: Get medical attention
It's important to see a doctor as soon as possible following a slip and fall accident. Even if you don't think you suffered a serious injury, it's a good idea to get checked out because some symptoms don't appear for days or even weeks after an accident. What's more, if you decide to file a lawsuit, the defendant will have a harder time arguing that you weren't actually hurt if you sought medical attention immediately after the accident.
Step 2: Report your accident
Make sure the owner of the property is aware that you fell and injured yourself. If you're in a retail store, inform the manager. Most managers are required to file an accident report after a slip and fall. This report will help support your claim. When you report your accident, avoid saying too much. Don't take the blame or assign blame, simply state the facts.
Step 3: Gather evidence
Gather as much evidence as you can safely after your slip and fall accident. Evidence that may support your claim includes witness contact information, photographs of the scene (the lighting, the item you slipped on, the lack of signage, etc.), and bloodied clothing.
Step 4: Avoid social media
One of the biggest mistakes plaintiffs often make in slip and fall cases is posting about their case on social media. After you file a lawsuit, defense attorneys will start combing through your social media accounts looking for any statements or photographs that can be used against you.
Step 5: Meet with a lawyer
The sooner you contact a personal injury lawyer who specializes in slip and fall cases, the more likely it is that crucial evidence (such as security footage and witnesses) will be available to help build your case. Most initial consultations are free.