When a property owner opens his or her space to guests, the owner must ensure the space is safe. The property must be safe in construction and free from dangerous conditions. The property owner must ensure that spills are cleaned up promptly and ice is properly dealt with. When the owner fails to do so and a guest is injured, the owner is responsible for that guest’s injuries. Below is a brief overview of liability that flows from these slip-and-fall accidents.
Construction Defects: Property must be first and foremost safely constructed. This means that floors should be even and stairs in good repair, among other conditions. If a construction defect exists, the property owner must take reasonable care to correct or warn of such a defect. Whether a warning is sufficient will depend on the circumstances of the defect, including its location, the use of that area of the property, and the potential danger posed. In Brock v. Richmond-Berea Cemetery District, the court also determined that the property owner must either know of the defect or the defect must have existed long enough that reasonable inspection would have revealed it. If the plaintiff can prove either of these, the injuries caused by the construction defect will be compensated by the property owner.
Temporary Defects: Property owners must also ensure that other conditions do not render the property unsafe. These commonly include spilled drinks and accumulated rain or ice. Just as with construction defects, the property owner must have knowledge of these dangerous conditions. The court will also impose liability if it is decided that a reasonable property owner would have discovered the condition using reasonable inspection protocols. For example, a department store cannot simply instruct its employees to avoid going near the store’s entrance during rain storms so that no employee will discover puddles of water. Instead, a reasonable store owner would regularly inspect this area under those circumstances.
In the case of accumulation from weather, the property owner has additional guards against liability. In Agnew v. Dillons, Inc., the court held that a property owner is under limited obligations to clear or combat accumulated ice or snow when the storm is ongoing. The court reasoned that the guest should be equally aware of the danger of the precipitation and the property owner is given gracious leeway in deciding how to address the conditions during the storm. Once the storm has passed, however, the obligation to take reasonable steps to clear the accumulation is present. Thus, a store is likely forgiven for only having laid down salt during a snow shower but liable for not doing more once the snowing has stopped.
Repairing Or Warning: When a defect exists and the owner becomes aware of it, the need to correct the defect arises. Repair is always an appropriate action. However, in some situations warning or otherwise drawing attention to the defect may be sufficient. The best example of this is a “wet floor” sign used after cleaning up a spill: the defect still exists but the warning protects the owner from liability. So, does a warning always mean that an injured party cannot recover? Not necessarily. The property owner is required to exercise reasonable care in warning guests of the defect to escape liability, so the use of a warning—such as a “wet floor” sign—is simply something the jury can consider in determining if the property owner met this requirement.
Occasionally, a warning is required even when an area of the property is not in need of repair but is simply inherently dangerous. In these circumstances, the property owner may have to permanently warn of the danger. A common example is curbs separating parking lots and sidewalks, which are painted yellow or red to draw attention to the change in elevation. The same may be true when an area is under construction or in the process of being repaired. The property owner may be required to close off this area using barricades until the construction or repair is over. Just as with any warning or repair, the standard is the exercise of reasonable care by the property owner and is ultimately a decision for the jury in each case.
Inattention By Injured Plaintiff: A plaintiff may be found to have not paid adequate attention and thus contributed to the fall. Common examples of this are when the individual is using a cell phone or having a conversation with a friend. Years ago, any absence of care would completely bar an injured person from collecting for her injuries. Today, Kansas uses a system called comparative fault, outlined in Section 60-258a. Under comparative fault, the fault is assigned in the form of a percentage to both the plaintiff and defendant. So long as the plaintiff’s fault is 50% or less, the plaintiff can recover even though he or she may have been somewhat careless. The plaintiff’s recovery will be reduced by the percentage of fault attributed to the plaintiff, though. For example, if an individual was texting on a cell phone when he slipped on a puddle of water in a grocery store, the jury would be required to attribute fault to each party. The jury may award $100,000 in damages, and attribute fault to the plaintiff at 30% and fault of the grocery store at 70%. The plaintiff would be awarded $70,000—$100,000 reduced by the 30% fault attributed to plaintiff.
When an individual has been injured from a fall due to a defect in a property owner’s property, the law may require the property owner to compensate the individual for injuries suffered. The property owner must ensure that there are no unreasonable dangers to guests, including conditions such as wet areas and ice. Once you are injured from a slip and fall, it is imperative that you contact legal counsel quickly. This ensures that you are fairly compensated for the injuries you received as a result of the property owner’s lack of care.