Well, that’s a great question. I’d like to distinguish a slip-and-fall from a trip-and-fall. I think that people commonly use the phrase slip-and-fall to cover both, but there’s actually a difference. If you slip, it’s usually because something on the floor is wet or slippery and your feet go flying out from under you. You land on your back or your side. If you trip, it’s usually because something is sticking up and causes you to catch your foot and then your weight is still going forward. Typically, you fall forward. So, you’re going to have different kinds of injuries and it’s very different in terms of what’s causing the slip or the trip-and-fall.
If you slip on something wet, that’s a lot different than if you trip on something that’s raised. Usually, a slippery substance on the floor is something that isn’t there permanently, some water spilled or you’re in a grocery store, some lettuce or grape or banana or whatever it might be, has been dropped to the floor. Whereas if you trip over something, it’s usually a fixed object that’s been there for a long time. That’s an important distinction.
So you ask who’s responsible in a slip-and-fall?
Let’s say you go to a grocery store and slip on a lettuce leaf in the grocery department. It is not true that the store is automatically responsible. The rule is that for the store to be responsible, the condition must have existed long enough for the store or its employees to have been able to observe it and they must have had an opportunity to pick it up, clean it up, or put up a warning sign, and they failed to do that. If an employee drops things on the floor, they’re liable right away. But if it’s a customer that came and dropped something on the floor, the store has to be given a reasonable opportunity. It might be a couple of minutes or so before they are charged with the duty to be aware of it and take some corrective action.
So to say that the store is automatically responsible if you slip in, say, some milk that’s spilled from a customer that’s on the floor, is not accurate. So they may be liable, they may not be liable, but you have to prove that they had a reasonable opportunity to become aware or that they actually were aware of the problem and had a reasonable opportunity to fix it or warn about it or do something to prevent a customer or a person from falling in that slippery substance. Sometimes, there may not be anyone that you can go after, certainly not useful to try to go after the customer who’s not even there anymore, who might have put the slippery substance on the floor or drop something. You can’t just have a blanket rule, “The store is always liable.”
A trip-and-fall, which is different, we’re usually talking about tripping over something that’s raised. It could be a sidewalk which is uneven or a sprinkler head that is sticking up that shouldn’t be there. There’s a lot of things that can cause a person to trip and fall. Usually, the tripping hazard has been in place for a much longer time than, say, a substance when you’re talking about a slip-and-fall. So when you have a tripping hazard, the owner of the property or the person that has control over that property would be held liable if the tripping hazard is a fairly serious or significant condition.
Now, there’s a couple of other things I should mention. In terms of going back to slip-and-fall. Sometimes you have slip-and-fall cases where people slip and fall on a slippery floor that might have just been cleaned by a janitorial service where they mix too much soap in the cleansing fluids or they didn’t dry it off properly. And in that case, you would have a claim against both the owner of the property or the person that controls the property and the janitorial service that creates that slippery condition.
One other thing I’d like to make a point of, these kinds of cases are often very difficult. Especially on trip-and-fall cases, there is the claim that if you look where you’re going, you’re going to see the hazard. So you could expect to have a vigorous defense that you didn’t look where you were going and if you had been careful, you wouldn’t have tripped. You would have seen the hazard and avoided it. I hope that answers the question.