The general principle guiding recovery in slip and fall cases is that an injured party can recover when it can be established that the owner/operator of the premises had superior knowledge of the hazard which led to the injury, and the injured party was unable to avoid the hazard through the exercise of reasonable care. The law imposes a duty on the landlord or person in control of the property to either eliminate hazardous conditions, or give patrons and guests equal knowledge of the hazards on their premises. If a guest or patron is injured by a hazard that was known to the owner, but that the owner failed to adequately warn patrons of, then the owner can be held liable. Claims and jury trials will often succeed or fail on this issue.
The need to give customers and guests equal knowledge of hazardous conditions is what causes stores to put up “wet floor” signs on rainy days or whenever maintenance or cleaning is being done. While there may still be an issue of whether a particular warning was sufficient to give equal knowledge of the hazard to the injured party before the fall, the owner’s purpose in putting out the signs is to establish knowledge of the particular hazard on the part of anyone who may encounter it. Once a party is aware of a hazard, he or she must take appropriate steps to avoid the risk and protect themselves. Everyone is charged with exercising ordinary care for their own safety. The issue of comparative negligence is a jury issue, but the defense will always try to make it a central defense.
Sometimes there are fixed or static conditions on property which can be dangerous. Examples would be unmarked curb cuts where there is no paint to call attention to the sudden change in elevation, or lighting which fails to adequately illuminate stairs at night. There may be design issues that create an optical illusion which hides a change in elevation. There may be platforms with sudden, unexpected drop-offs. Stairs may be constructed with uneven rates of run and rise which can cause a person to stumble and fall.
Whenever there is a claim that a static or fixed condition has been the cause of an injury the defense will try to absolve themselves of liability by claiming that the injured party either was or should have been aware of the danger. One way this can be established is by proving that the injured party had encountered the condition previously without incident. Insurance adjustors investigating claims will often try to lead unwary injured parties into an admission of equal knowledge when they take recorded statements.
Knowledge of the law is essential to protecting your rights. Many lay people do not appreciate the risk they run by attempting to represent themselves initially after an injury. Business owners or insurance companies may even seem eager to help, calling frequently and asking lots of questions, before the injured party has had the benefit of a lawyer advising them of their rights. The key to making sure any potential case involving a static defect is properly handled is to recognize the importance of the parties’ relative knowledge of the specific hazard causing the fall. It is not a defense that the injured party had a general knowledge of hazardous conditions. The correct question is whether the injured party had equal knowledge of the specific condition which caused the fall. This is one of many reasons why it can be critically important to consult with experienced counsel as quickly as possible after an injury, before speaking with anyone representing the premises owner.
If you or a loved one have sustained injuries in a slip and fall, make sure you contact an experienced Atlanta slip and fall lawyer as soon as possible. The attorneys at James M. Poe, P.C. are here to help you through the legal process. Call us today for a free consultation: 678-501-6860.