Just because you slip and fall on someone else’s property doesn’t mean you have a viable injury case. In fact, slip and fall cases are challenging to prove and almost always demand experienced legal representation.
So, how do you win a slip and fall case in Pennsylvania? What makes some slip and fall cases viable and others not?
Below, the slip and fall lawyers at Hagelgans & Veronis take you through a slip and fall case step-by-step, and we discuss the legal foundation on which these cases are built.
1. Establishing Negligence
The first step in building a viable slip and fall case involves establishing negligence. Negligence occurs when someone failed to use reasonable care, resulting in damage or injury to someone else.
Specifically, the plaintiff must prove that a duty was owed and that someone failed to meet that duty. However, there are different types of land entrants, and depending on the classification of the plaintiff, the duty owed to him or her differs significantly.
For example, the duty of care owed to a trespasser, or a person who enters or remains upon the property without the landowner’s consent, is very low.
Conversely, invitees, or a person who is invited onto private property, expressly or implied, for the financial benefit of the landowner (think restaurants and retail shops), is owed the highest level of care.
To establish negligence, an attorney will need to determine the plaintiff’s role on the property to determine what level of care was owed. If the property owner failed to meet that duty, negligence is established.
There are a few exceptions. Landowners, for example, have a special duty with regard to children. Under the attractive nuisance doctrine, a landowner could be held liable for injuries to a trespassing child, if the landowner maintains equipment, farm animals, lakes or ponds…anything that might appeal to the interests of a child and does not have adequate protections in place to deter children.
Similarly, plaintiffs may be able to argue strict liability (liability without fault) in cases involving statutory violations, dangerous animals or accidents involving dangerous or hazardous materials.
2. Proving Negligence
The second step toward filing a viable slip and fall case is much harder than the first. Proving negligence is challenging because sometimes there are no witnesses or surveillance, so there may be a dispute over what actually caused the accident.
According to Pennsylvania law, the plaintiff must prove one of three things to prove negligence in a slip and fall case:
- The property owner or person in charge of the property caused the dangerous condition that resulted in damage or injury to another person.
- The property owner or person in charge of the property knew about the dangerous condition and failed to correct it.
- The property owner or person in charge of the property should have known of the dangerous condition. This standard is based on what a “reasonable” person in a similar situation would have
The third scenario is most common and focuses on the efforts the property owner makes (or doesn’t make) to maintain a safe premise.
For example, it’s reasonable for a shop owner to routinely check the floors for spills or obstacles. But it would be unreasonable for that same shop owner to monitor his floors 24 hours a day.
3. Comparative Negligence
The next step involves examining the plaintiff’s role in the accident; specifically, did he or she contribute to the fall in any way?
Pennsylvania follows the comparative negligence doctrine, which reduces compensation by an amount equal to the percentage of fault attributed to the plaintiff.
Here’s an example: if you’re awarded $10,000 in damages, but you’re found to be 20 percent at fault for the accident, your compensation is reduced by $2,000. Your awarded damages would now total $8,000.
Important note: if the plaintiff is found more responsible for an accident than the property owner, the plaintiff is barred from collecting any compensation. In other words, if you’re found to be 51 percent (or more) responsible for a slip and fall, you will not be able to collect any compensation from the property owner.
Hire an Experienced Injury Lawyer
The steps above represent the basic foundation of a viable slip and fall case in Pennsylvania. However, every case is different, and there are nuances to state laws that are best interpreted by legal professionals.
Moreover, property owners will attempt to use several defenses to minimize your claim. An experienced slip and fall attorney will see those tricks coming and know how to defend your case.
More importantly, accident victims that work with qualified legal representation can expect to see larger settlements compared to those who don’t.
At Hagelgans & Veronis, we’ve been protecting the rights of injured people for more than 25 years. We’ve helped other slip and fall victims, and we may be able to help you too.