Slip & Fall Information Center
Common Conditions for NJ Slip and Fall Accidents
There are very few among us who haven't slipped and fallen at some time (many times?) in our lives. Fortunately, such accidents aren't common and, even more fortunately, falls usually don't result in any significant injury, other than perhaps hurt pride. We're all certainly surprised when we fall, because we all consider ourselves fairly observant and careful in the way we walk. When a slip and fall causes more than simple embarrassment, however, you may want to seek legal advice. Let's look at some reasons why.
Any overview of slip and fall law in New Jersey includes looking at some of the most common causes of slip and falls. These accidents can occur almost anywhere and at almost any time. Locations include grocery stores, restaurants, office buildings, shopping malls, parking lots and sidewalks. The accident may occur on a sunny day or when, as the song goes, the weather is frightful.
If you are injured as a result of a slip and fall accident, you may eligible for compensation for your injuries - the pain, suffering, loss of use of a body part (temporary or permanent), medical bills, lost wages, and the loss of your ability to engage in normal activities of daily living as you did before the accident. Before considering what kinds of damages are recoverable, however, consider this: the operative word here is "may" be able to. To be eligible to claim damages, you will need to show the following:
- That the landowner or occupier has a duty to conform to a specific standard of care or conduct;
- That the landowner failed to meet that duty;
- That the failure to meet that duty by the landowner was the actual and proximate cause of your injury; and
- That you were, in fact, injured.
However, even if you believe you can prove these four things, it doesn't automatically mean you'll recover damages. There are always many factors subject to interpretation in slip and fall (and trip and fall) cases. Any recovery sure won't be easy, and it's only worse if you try to handle this on your own. Why? It's all about the insurance companies, but we'll get back to that. First, here is some information about some common conditions forming the backdrop for many New Jersey slip and fall accidents:
Indoor conditions can result in liability for a property owner or occupier if there is proof of negligence. However, the mere fact that a floor may be made of material that can be slippery (e.g., marble or tile) may not, in and of itself, establish a landowner's negligence. (Though in extreme cases, if accidents keep happening on an owner's floor, that owner/operator of the premises may be charged with "notice" of a recurring dangerous condition, and negligence can be inferred from a failure to do something to prevent accidents.) Unless an owner or occupier is aware of a dangerous condition, that the condition was clearly and plainly obvious or the owner did not correct, repair or otherwise remedy the dangerous condition, the owner/operator of the premises will likely not be held liable for negligence if you are injured because of the dangerous condition in question.
Here are some situations that may result in liability to the landowner or occupier for an injury suffered as a result of a slip and fall accident that occurs indoors:
- Landowner's failure to warn: A lack of adequate signs or other warnings that a floor is being waxed, cleaned, polished (even painted) or is wet would likely result in a finding of responsibility against the landowner;
- • Failing to restrict or deny access to an area where an unsafe/dangerous condition exists: For example, not cordoning off a hallway or aisle where water has collected;
- Cleaning at a time/in a manner that is likely to be unsafe: Mopping aisles when foot traffic is particularly heavy, using excessive quantities of soap and/or water, etc.;
- Failing to clean up spills: Spillage of food or liquid in a store is such a common and regular occurrence you would expect managers and employees to be trained to be ever on the lookout for broken juice bottles or squished grapes on the floor and to immediately clean up any mess. However, the fact that scores of shoppers are injured annually because a store has failed to clean up spilled food, liquid or other foreign substances proves otherwise; most stores train their staff to guard a spill so no one falls, until someone else comes to clean it up.
- Failure to inspect: in supermarkets where liquids are sold, vegetables and fruits are sold loose (so customers can choose which they want) and children and careless patrons drop and spill things on a regular, predictable (foreseeable!) way, stores must inspect on a regular basis to find any unsafe conditions for shoppers. Many stores have a system of regular inspections which are sometimes honored in the breach. These are the same stores who invite you in to look at the items for sale on the shelves, and when you do - and do not see a spill until you fall in it, they (or more likely their insurance carrier or defense attorney) try to blame you. Add to this that you may be pushing a shopping cart which obstructs your view of the floor, and you can see things getting dangerous quickly (thankfully, only sometimes).
- The landowner fails or even refuses to keep the premises (e.g., floorboards, floor tile, carpets, stairs, sidewalks, parking lots, display racks, etc.) in a reasonably safe condition;
- The occupier knew or should have known about an unsafe/dangerous condition but failed to correct, repair or otherwise remedy the condition. Assume, for example, that the premises has a broken handrail on the stairs and the property owner makes temporary repairs that are more cosmetic than they are effective. Someone injured because the handrail gave way may be entitled to recovery as a result. Another example is a landlord who refuses to take action when he/she knows that a light fixture is not working, leaving a stairwell in darkness - an unsafe condition bound to hurt someone.
- A foreseeable recurring unsafe condition: a drainpipe that empties water from a roof onto a sidewalk where it can freeze, and cause an ice hazard to those walking is such an example. Here in the Northeast, melting and re-freezing of snow into ice overnight is so common and predictable that responsible owners have a system in place to deal with this, or contract with a company to deal with it. Failure to do so is almost always negligence.
Slip and fall accidents often occur on exterior steps, on sidewalks or driveways and in parking lots. There are many ways people can hurt themselves outdoors, including:
- Tripping on cracks in the sidewalk
- Tripping on parking blocks or uneven surfaces
- Slipping on a snowy or icy patch on a sidewalk or in a parking lot
- Slipping on a stairway for any number of reasons including ice, snow, water or a crumbling step
- Tripping due to poor lighting which renders a person unable to see a hole, a curb or an uneven surface.
If you suffer the misfortune of having one these things happen to you, the first step is to determine the identity of who was responsible for the state of the premises and, by extension, the unsafe or dangerous condition. For example, a slip that occurs in an icy parking lot that the landowner has failed to clean in a timely manner may result in liability to that landowner and perhaps, a management company or other contractor if the landowner has contracted with such a company to perform snow and ice removal services. A store owner, on the other hand, may not be liable if he or she is not in possession of the parking lot and/or not responsible for its care and maintenance.
Whichever party is tasked with the control, care and maintenance of the parking lot has a duty to exercise reasonable care in order to keep it safe for travel by automobile and pedestrian alike. If, as is the case when commercial property is involved, the people on the property are "invitees", the landowner has a duty to:
- Exercise ordinary care to keep the parking lot (or other outside area) reasonably safe;
- Warn of dangers known to the landowner that the invitee is not likely to observe or discover; and
- Engage in inspections/observations of the premises with sufficient frequency to discover or disclose any dangerous condition that might occur.
An example would be if a commercial property owner did not survey his property after a heavy snowfall to determine whether a dangerous condition existed or, if he did, failed to take action that a reasonably prudent person would have taken under the circumstances. The initial plowing of the snow is not enough. The formation of ice from melting snow during overnight freezing temperatures is a very foreseeable event in New Jersey. Owners and operators of commercial premises know this. Failure to make the premises safe for shoppers can and often does lead to liability based on negligence, and this should not be a surprise to anyone. It's just irresponsible to ignore this reality of life in New Jersey at the peril of pedestrians who are injured when they fall - sometimes disastrously injured (I have represented the estate of a man who passed away as a result of his fall on ice).
So, if you are injured because of one of the conditions we've described above and you believe your injury involved all the factors necessary to prove landowner/occupier negligence, you should be able to reach a settlement with the insurance carrier quite easily, right? Don't kid yourself.
Remember this: The insurance company doesn't work for you. It isn't interested in making you whole. Because the landowner wants and the shareholders demand that the carrier pays out little, if any, money to you, the claims adjustor will do whatever is necessary to satisfy those people. The adjuster’s job is to keep you away from an attorney if possible and to pay as little as possible - even when you do have an attorney.
What's more, the claims adjustor will stretch the negotiations out, sometimes longer than two years. Why? New Jersey law requires that you file legal action within two years of the date of a slip and fall accident. If you don't, you no longer can. And, once you can't, the insurance company knows it can make a "take it or leave it" settlement offer because you no longer have any options. An attorney can overcome these problems for you, but why would you bring an attorney in at the end to overcome problems you have created? Most attorneys won't agree to represent you in such a case (I won't) and rightfully so.
Medical payments insurance: what a claims person usually won't tell you! There are the exceptions out there, but most adjusters won't tell you that a property owner or operator has "medical payments" coverage on their property. Why won't they tell you? This coverage is for the payment of out-of-pocket medical bills (if you have medical coverage, this means your co-pay and deductible amounts; if you have no coverage, this means the entire medical bill.) Adjusters may not want to tell you about this coverage because no matter how you were injured on the property, whether there was negligence or not, the insurance company MUST pay your out of pocket medical bills if they have this coverage. So if all you want is your out-of-pocket medical bills repaid to you, you might very well represent yourself in such a claim, and ask the adjuster if there is "medical payments coverage" available for your bills. I don't really recommend you doing this, but several times I have seen this work.
So how do you know if an attorney is able to help you? How do you know what your legal rights are, and the legal responsibilities of the owner or operator of property are? You talk to an attorney, for free. Call me at 888-233-1272 or 908-233-5800, or email me at Frank@FrankSMithLaw.com. This is what I do, and all I do. The consultation is free and without obligation, and if I do accept your case and agree to represent you, there is NO FEE unless and until I recover money for you.