Slip & Fall Information Center
NJ Slip and Fall Overview
Slip and fall accidents are essentially what the phrase suggests: They occur when a person slips and falls (or trips and falls) due to a dangerous condition. When the dangerous condition arises as either a direct or indirect action lack of action by another, a cause of action for damages by the injured party may be available.
Fortunately, most slip and fall accidents are minor and cause little physical injury or other damage. However, when a serious injury (or, sadly, even death) occurs due to a slip and fall, you will be well-served to seek the advice, counsel and, if warranted, representation from an experienced personal injury attorney such as Francis M. Smith in Mountainside, New Jersey. Mr. Smith has the expertise to determine whether a cause of action exists for recovery of medical expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering, loss of enjoyment of life, inability to engage in pre-accident activities, and other damages.
A slip and fall accident is one of several types of events that fall under the umbrella of what is called "premises liability". The majority of such cases arise when the property owner or individual responsible for the maintenance of the "premises" fails to conform to a specific requisite standard of care or conduct and this failure contributes to an unsafe condition that results in an accident which then causes an injury. Wherever the accident and injury has occurred - a store, business, public sidewalk, apartment complex, condominium complex, and sometimes a private residence - the owner of the property or the operator in charge of the property may be liable for the injury if "negligence" can be established. This means something was done that should not have been done, or something that should have been done was not done. If it is fair to hold the owner or operator of property responsible for the dangerous condition, we can move forward with a claim for damages.
Before we examine what specific factors are required to establish liability for a slip and fall (or trip and fall) in New Jersey, it is helpful to review the concept of damages as it relates to a potential cause of action. First and foremost, for any litigation to be "successful", it should result in a financial outcome that makes the effort worthwhile. In other words, there is little to be gained if the case has no monetary value. A dangerous condition that causes you to slip and fall but suffer no injury does not support commencement of legal action even if the dangerous condition could clearly have been prevented. This analysis helps to establish what is referred to as the value of a case.
Other factors that serve to help set the value of a slip and fall case include:
- Status of the person injured on the property
- Jurisdiction (a case that supports an award of $25,000 in one jurisdiction may only result in $10,000 in another jurisdiction and maybe $100,000 in a third)
- Severity of injury evidenced by timely and appropriate treatment
- Foreseeability of the condition that caused the accident
- Opportunity of the owner or operator to warn of the dangerous condition
- Whether the property owner or party responsible for the maintenance of the premises failed to comply with a legal duty such as timely snow/ice removal
- Extent of insurance coverage
- Financial condition of the potential defendant
- Assets of any and all parties responsible, either wholly or in part
- Strength of case based on the facts available
- Skill/competence of your attorney
- Case law or statutory law upholding the claim for damages
There are unknown factors that will impact the outcome of the litigation as well. These include:
- Juror perceptions
- Proclivities/idiosyncrasies/opinions of the judge
- Degree to which the jury is sympathetic to the appearance and demeanor of the injured party, the injured party's treating doctors, and the injured party's attorney
Once the value of the case has been estimated, the injured party can determine whether to proceed with litigation. Bear in mind that an estimation of the value of a claim - either settlement value or estimated verdict value - many times must await the conclusion of treatment and production of the doctor's reports. If a cause of action is commenced, the following factors become relevant:
- Negligence. Most slip and fall (and trip and fall) accident litigation is based on the theory that the landowner or other person responsible for the premises was negligent. A finding of negligence requires that the defendant had a duty to conform to a specific standard of conduct, that the duty to conform was not fully met or breached entirely, that the failure to carry out the duty to conform was the actual and proximate cause of the accident that resulted in the injury and, finally, that the injured person was, in fact, injured.
- Duties or Landowners/Property Managers/Occupiers. An owner, occupier or other possessor of the premises involved may incur liability if the jurisdiction in which the action is brought has adopted the rule that imposes a duty of reasonable care under all circumstances. Unlike common law theories which look to why the injured person was on the property in the first place to establish liability, states that impute a duty of reasonable care under all circumstances consider why the injured person was on the property to be relevant only to the determination of whether the injury was foreseeable and whether the landowner was negligent. These issues must be assessed on a case-by-case basis, and are fact-sensitive.
- Common Slip and Fall Accidents. It's not difficult to imagine scenarios in which a slip and fall accident can occur. Most common among them are:
- Slipping in a grocery store aisle due to food or liquid on the floor
- Tripping over and falling due to merchandise or store equipment left in a walkway or aisle
- Snow and ice on a storefront sidewalk or in a parking lot, often because of a failure to clean the snow or ice in a timely manner, or failure to treat ice when a melt and re-freeze occurs, Which is common and foreseeable in New Jersey
- Slipping on a loose rug, exposed nail in the floor or loose threshold
- Tripping and falling down steps or stairs that are loose, have inadequate handrails or because the rug, runner or other covering is loose, or suffer from other defects of construction or maintenance
- Slipping on a recently cleaned and still wet public restroom floor for which no warning was posted.
- Potential Defendants in Slip and Fall Accidents. Potential liability in a slip and fall accident isn't limited solely to the property owner itself. For example, let's say a mall rents space to a retail outlet and the retailer hires an independent company to attend to its cleaning needs. If the action or failure to act by the cleaning company caused the accident, that company, the retailer and the mall owner may all be potentially liable. If you don't seek legal advice, you may not be able to identify the correct party (or even whether you have a cause of action in the first place). The same scenario may apply when a store owner or operator has an independent contractor taking care of its snow plowing and ice remediation duties.
- Damages Arising From a Slip and Fall. Damages are, quite simply, intended to compensate for any injury suffered. These may include:
- General Damages which include payment for such items as loss of future wages if the injured person is unable to work, loss of higher income due to an inability to perform the work of a job for which a promotion was possible, inability to engage in common tasks such as driving or housework or participating in hobbies, sports, or other recreational activities and, sometimes most importantly, pain and suffering.
- Special damages contemplate payments for all costs associated with care and treatment of the injury (medical expenses, hospital bills, physical therapy, medication) as well as actual loss of wages due to inability to work.
- The Insurance Company: Friend or Foe? It is almost certain that the defendant will have insurance coverage. If you are the injured party, It is likely also a certainty that the insurer will make every effort to engage you in what may appear to be settlement negotiations as quickly as possible. However, most times, what appears to be an effort to learn what they need to know to offer you a quick settlement is almost always a gathering of facts that can help the insurance company later - after they deny your claim, after they say they can offer you nothing or a few hundred dollars for out of pocket medical expense, and for the time when you have finally consulted and retained an attorney. The insurance company investigation rarely favors you, the injured party, and almost always benefits the insurance carrier and their insured. Remember, the insurance company doesn't work for you, no matter how much the claims adjustor may try to persuade you otherwise. They are only gathering information to limit their liability in the future. Why would you help them do that?
I have been representing clients in slip and fall accidents and trip and fall accidents for over 30 years and have recovered millions of dollars in damages for my clients. Every situation is different. My guarantee to you is that you will be treated like no other client I have - because you and your case are unique. Talking about your situation is always free, and there is no fee unless I recover money damages for you. Call me at 888-233-1272, or email me at Frank@FrankSmithLaw.com .