Slip & Fall Information Center
NJ Slip and Fall Accident
Frequently Asked Questions
Slip and fall accidents can happen almost anywhere, anytime and to almost anyone. Including you. Likely everyone you know (including yourself) has slipped and fallen more than once, usually with little injury other than perhaps bruised pride. However, slip and falls (as well as trip and fall accidents) can cause serious physical injury, pain and suffering and, sadly, even death. I have represented clients with just about every kind of slip and fall injury - involving rather modest injuries to the worst kind of wrongful death case.
When a serious slip and fall accident occurs, questions often arise about what to do, how to do it and even whether anything can be done. Questions arise like who pays for medical treatment or what happens to my bills if I'm unable to work? There are so many issues that can result from a slip and fall accident which causes serious injury that it's impossible to anticipate them all. However, there are a number of frequently asked questions (FAQs) about slip and fall accidents, the answers to which will determine whether you can file an insurance claim or pursue legal action against the owner/operator of the premises on which the accident occurred, the occupier of those premises or some other party. Included among them:Q: Which parties may be held responsible in a slip and fall accident?
A: As is often the case in any situation involving personal injury which may have been caused by another party, there may be more than one person or entity potentially responsible for your injuries resulting from a slip and fall accident. For example, either the owner or the occupier of the premises may be deemed to be liable for the accident. Perhaps even both, or a third party altogether. Consider the following scenario:
Retailer ABC rents a store from a strip mall owner. The walkway in front of ABC is subject to pooling of water which freezes when the weather gets cold. You slip and fall on an icy patch. Because it may be unclear which party had a duty to clear the walkway, you would be well-advised to file an insurance claim against both ABC and the mall owner and they would be named as defendants in any lawsuit if the claims were not resolved to your satisfaction. To add another layer of complexity, if the mall owner or ABC had contracted snow removal services with a third party (such as a management company or a snow plowing company), you would also seek recovery for damages from that third party. Every possible case must be thoroughly investigated and possible liable parties identified. This is one of the things I do for my clients.
Q. Can the failure of a property owner or occupier to comply with a building code regulation or other legal obligation be used as evidence to establish liability in a slip and fall accident?
A: Absolutely - sometimes. Failure to comply with/violation of a building code, municipal ordinance or other regulation when such failure causes or contributes to the existence of a dangerous condition can help you make a case for negligence. Simply put, a property owner or occupier is legally obligated to obey the law, whether it is a local building code, federal legislation or anything in between. Bear in mind that the ordinance or law is the minimum standard of care and many times a relevant standard of care in the industry can and is much stricter. Here's an example of such a situation:
Returning to our example of Retailer ABC and the strip mall owner, let's assume the municipality of What Exit, New Jersey has an ordinance that requires that all property owners clear their sidewalks, parking lots and other public areas where foot traffic occurs within 24 hours after the accumulation of 2 inches or more of snow. If ABC fails to do so and you are injured as a result, noncompliance with the ordinance can be cited as evidence of a standard of care, the violation of which may establish negligent behavior. Don't be surprised, however, to learn that the standard of care with regard to commercial premises is usually much stricter. If it snows today and snow is done and over by 3 PM, is it reasonable to assume that a store will have its parking lot clear and ready for business tomorrow morning? Most agree it is reasonable, even though the ordinance gives a property owner 24 hours from 3 PM. Even store owners have testified that such an expectation is reasonable. Remember, it is what is reasonable under all the circumstances which governs.
Q: If a slip and fall accident in which I was hurt was caused because I was partially at fault, is it possible that my recovery for damages might be reduced?
A: Yes that is possible, and you have to admit that it's only fair. Not all accidents happen to us solely because someone else is at fault. Often, they occur because we've been somewhat trusting of a situation, and perhaps our attention wandered. (Although in my view, such human behavior is well known and that is why responsible land owners take good care of their property.) In New Jersey, we have what is known as "true comparative fault." That means that a jury can find you 20% at fault and the owner of the property 80% at fault. It's always an equation that adds up to 100%. If you are held to be 51% responsible for your own accident, you would recover nothing. (You were more responsible that the owner.) If the owner is 50% and you are 50%, you recover 50% of your damages as assessed by the jury. If the owner is 75% responsible for your injury, you recover 75% of your damages. That said, you may still be able to recover for your injury from the landowner or occupier of the premises, but the amount you ultimately receive may be reduced because of your "contribution" to the accident.
Q: What is a "licensee"?
A: Many recent cases blur the distinctions between invitees, licensees and trespassers. Generally speaking, though, you would be considered a licensee if you came onto the premises with the express or implied permission of the landowner or occupier for your benefit or purposes rather than those of the landowner or occupier. A social guest would be a licensee, for example.
Q: If I'm a licensee, can I recover for injuries suffered from a slip and fall on the premises?
A: Perhaps. Assume you were injured during a party at a neighbor's house. If a dangerous condition existed, your neighbor had a duty to warn you of any dangerous condition that created an unreasonable risk of harm if: 1) He knew of the condition; and 2) You were unlikely to discover it unless actually injured because of it. Example? Loose railing on the patio that gives way while you lean on it, causing you to fall to the level below.
Q: I understand there are two types of "invitees". What are they?
A: In general, an invitee is someone who comes onto the premises at the express or implied invitation of the landlord or occupier.
A business invitee is someone who enters the premises for the commercial benefit of the property owner (e.g., delivery person, commercial vendor, retail customer or employee).
A public invitee has been held by New Jersey courts to include any person who enters land open to the public or segment of the public of which they are a member (e.g., hospital visitors, users of public sidewalks) and who has not been specifically prohibited from entry onto the premises, such as children under a certain age.
Q: I've heard about something called the "attractive display" doctrine. What is it?
A: Perhaps it should be called the "I was distracted by shiny things and didn't see the spilled liquid/rake/boxes in the store aisle" doctrine. Even if a hazard/dangerous condition was obvious, you may be excused from being partially responsible for an injury if you didn't notice the hazard because the property owner created a distraction, such as a display of merchandise, designed to attract your attention. If the store owner intends for you to focus on a display, then it stands to reason that you shouldn't need to worry about what might be on the floor. This is a doctrine based on fairness: if a store owner wants shoppers to come in and look at the merchandise while walking the aisles, don't penalize a shopper who does that and misses a dangerous condition on the floor. Put another way, it is foreseeable that when a storeowner invites the public in to look at the shelves of merchandise, the shoppers cannot look at the floor at the same time and you can expect a spilled liquid or some foreign object to be missed by a shopper for that reason.
Q: I was injured because I slipped in the produce aisle on some grapes that had fallen on the floor. Another customer told me she had told a store employee about it but he failed to clean it up. Does this matter?
A: Two legal concepts come into play here. Yes, if an employee was notified of the spill and did not remedy the situation or see to it that it was remedied, (or put up a sign warning customers of a danger) this can help establish that the property owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition, had an opportunity to correct the problem and, in failing to do so, acted in a negligent manner. In addition, the doctrine of foreseeability dictates a different result in the produce aisle: if a store chooses to sell loose grapes, or grapes in unsealed bags (of course this can apply to many items in the produce aisle) then it should not be surprised that some end up on the floor. Some courts have held that since this is a foreseeable event, no actual notice of the grapes you actually slipped on is necessary. This is called the "mode of operation" doctrine.
More questions about your fall, your rights and how it all fits together? Call me at (908) 233 5800 or email me at Frank@FrankSmithLaw.com . I have been representing clients injured in slip and fall and trip and fall cases for over 30 years and my multi-million dollar recoveries have earned me a Life Membership in the Multi-Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Consultation is always free and there is no fee whatsoever unless and until I am successful in recovering damages for you.
DISCLAIMER: This site and any information contained herein are intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice. Seek competent legal counsel for advice on any legal matter.