Slip, Trip and Fall . . . Premise Liability Accidents in California. Do I have a Case?
By Lou Cutrone
You’re browsing through your local supermarket when as you turn down the next aisle you slip on spilled mayonnaise from a broken jar lying on the floor. You fall so hard on your back you can hardly move. You are frightened because as you fell you heard a strange, loud pop from your lower spine and it hurts so bad you could cry. As it turns out you’ve seriously injured your vertebrae and will likely need surgery. You have good case right? The answer is, at best, “maybe.” Choosing the right attorney can and often does make the difference.
Slip Trip and Fall Accidents – Premises Liability Claims in Los Angeles, California
Slip, trip and fall accidents fall under the legal category of premises liability claims. Under California law, the fact that you slipped or tripped and then fell at someone else’s home, store, mall, supermarket, hospital, restaurant, movie theater, parking lot, swimming pool or other property does not necessarily mean you have a case, even if you were badly injured. The law in California requires that the property owner or manager have enough notice that a dangerous condition exists on the property to be able to clean it up, repair it, or otherwise post a warning sign. The key here is notice; without it, there is no case. California courts hold that in the absence of notice, property owners and managers do not owe a duty to persons coming onto their property to keep them safe from a property defect they don’t know exists. To better illustrate this legal point, let’s look at the example of the broken mayonnaise jar at the supermarket mentioned above.
In scenario number one, the jar of mayonnaise is knocked off the shelf more than 3 hours before you turn the corner and have your slip and fall accident. In that case, the market owner had more than ample time to become aware of the hazard by routine floor sweeps and to then clean it up. If the mayonnaise is still on the floor after three hours then more than likely the market owner/manager owed you a duty to keep you safe from a hazard it knew of or in the exercise of reasonable caution should have known about. In that scenario, the property owner/manager owed you a duty and then breached it by failing to clean up the mess in the aisle where you were hurt. Under these facts, you may have a case.
In scenario number two, the jar of mayonnaise is knocked off the shelf by another customer only seconds before you turn the corner and down the aisle where you have your violent slip and fall accident. Under this scenario, the property owner/manager had no notice of this dangerous condition nor could he/she because you happened upon it just as it was created by the customer in front of you. In this scenario, the court is likely to say the property owner/manager did not owe you a duty of care since he/she had no notice of the dangerous condition and no time to find out about and clean it up. You probably do not have a case under this scenario.
There is yet a third scenario; and that is where the property owner actually creates the dangerous condition. When this happens, the courts will presume that the property owner/manager had notice of the dangerous condition because, after all, he/she created it! An example might be where a supermarket owner, in order to get as many mayonnaise jars on the shelf, overstacks them so that the slighest vibration will cause one to crash onto the floor. Another example might be when the shopkeeper decides to mop the floor but fails to put up warning cones or placards. In sum, whenever the dangerous condition is created by the property owner/manager, the presumption is that the owner/manager had notice of the dangerous condition and may be held liable for resulting injuries.
Open and Obvious?
Another wrinkle in the premises liability equation is whether or not the dangerous condition that caused your injury was open and obvious at the time of the accident. Here’s an example. Assume there is a defect in a sidewalk such that a portion of it is raised 4 inches above the rest of the sidewalk, pretty common hazard on our Los Angeles streets. It’s a bright and sunny afternoon as you are walking along and you don’t notice the raised portion. You trip and fall and you sustain a serious head injury. Can you bring a claim or lawsuit? Well, yes but it is likely that you will be found to have contributed to your own injury by not seeing this “open and obvious” defect in the sidewalk which you should and would have seen had you been paying closer attention to your surroundings. This doesn’t mean you don’t have a case. It means that some percentage of the fault for your accident will rest with you and your damages award, should you be so awarded, will be reduced by that percentage of fault. This reduction of award based on percentage of fault is known in the law as comparative negligence, and it means in its simplest of terms, sharing the blame.
Now consider the very same accident only this time around imagine it is nighttime and fairly dark where you are walking. In this scenario, the defect in the sidewalk is not so open and obvious as to shift some of the responsibility for the accident to you, the pedestrian. While it is still possible that there may still be some comparative negligence against you, it will likely be much less than in the daytime scenario discussed above.
There are many other legal and factual issues that affect these kinds of premise liability accidents. But most personal injury attorneys in California agree that slip, trip and fall cases are often the toughest and most difficult cases to win. One of the main reasons for this is that it is hard to prove just what the property owner knew about the dangerous condition and when he or she knew it. Remember, no notice means no duty and no duty means no case. The specter of comparative negligence is yet another difficult issue that haunts these types of cases. As with any personal injury claim, there must be a causal connection between the accident and the injury in order for the victim to recover against the property owner. All of these potential snags provide defense attorneys with numerous ways to defeat these kinds of claims.
The attorneys at Cutrone & Associates have prosecuted many slip, trip and fall cases successfully to settlement and verdict. Our experience with these kinds of cases prepares us well to gather the right kinds of evidence, to assess the issue of notice and to successfully prove our cases. Time after time we have prevailed for our clients in even the most difficult of factual scenarios. Whether you’ve slipped at a supermarket or retail store, a gas station, the mall, a school, or a hospital we can help you. If you’ve tripped over a broken sidewalk or fallen down a flight of stairs, chances are we have successfully handled a claim similar to yours. Let our attorneys provide you with a free, no obligation consultation where we will evaluate your case and tell you exactly how we plan to win it. Give the attorneys at Cutrone & Associates an opportunity to show you just why we are so good at prosecuting slip, trip and fall cases. Remember, every personal injury claim in California has a statute of limitations after which no case can be brought. Don’t delay, give us a call today.