You slip on an oily substance on the floor of a drugstore, fall to the floor, and break your wrist.
You trip on a bunched-up rug inside the door of a restaurant and fall to the ground, damaging your spine.
You slip on water caused by a leaky ceiling in a department store, fall down, and hit your head hard. You suffer a traumatic brain injury.
Does the business owner have to pay your medical bills? If you miss work because of the injury, must the business owner reimburse you for your lost wages? In short, do you have a case?
Slip and Fall Injury Facts
These are just a few examples of slip-and-fall injuries. The term “slip-and-fall” is shorthand for slipping or tripping, and either falling all the way to the floor or ground, or falling partway, and suffering an injury as a result.
A fall may not cause any injuries at all, or it may just cause a bruise or two. On the other hand, falls can, and often do, cause very serious injuries. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control, as presented in “Important Facts about Falls” (available at cdc.gov):
- 20% of falls cause a serious injury, such as broken bones or a head injury
- Every year, emergency departments treat 2.8 million elderly people for injuries sustained in falls
- Over 800,000 people are hospitalized every year because of an injury caused by a fall—most often a head injury or hip fracture
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injuries
People slip, or trip, and fall all the time. Who hasn’t fallen down at least once? Falling on business premises, however, does not automatically create liability on the part of the business owner for damages caused by the fall.
Business Owner Responsibilities for Safety
A business is required by law to keep its premises in a reasonably safe condition. If the business fails to do so, and someone is hurt as a result, it may be held legally responsible for the consequences of its failure.
Under South Carolina law, to win a “slip and fall” case, an injured person “must show either (1) that the injury was caused by a specific act of the defendant which caused the dangerous condition; or (2) that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and failed to remedy it.” Wintersteen v. Food Lion, Inc., 542 S.W.2d 728 (S.C. 2001).
In other words, either an employee of the business has to cause the dangerous condition, or an employee has to know about it—or have reason to know about—and fail to fix it or warn customers about it.
An example of a business employee causing a dangerous condition is the third scenario at the beginning of this article. If water is leaking from the ceiling onto the floor, the business should correct this problem. If it doesn’t, and it also doesn’t put warning sides around the wet spot on the floor, a person who slips on the water and falls, and is injured, as a result, may have a valid case.
An example of the second type of case—the business didn’t cause the dangerous condition, but has actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition and failed to remedy it—is the first scenario at the beginning of this article. An oily substance on the floor of a drugstore is likely to be there because a customer spilled a product, let’s say shampoo, on the floor. This isn’t a dangerous condition caused by the business. But the business still has to correct the problem because it has a legal duty to keep its premises in a reasonably safe condition.
Actual Knowledge versus Constructive Knowledge
“Actual knowledge” means that the business actually knew about the dangerous condition. For example, if the person who spilled the shampoo told the manager about it, the business had actual knowledge of the condition.
“Constructive knowledge” means that, even if the business didn’t know about the dangerous condition, it should have—because the condition had existed long enough that the business, in its normal daily operation, should have found it. If it can be proven that the shampoo was spilled at 10:00 a.m. and the fall and injury occurred at 2:30 p.m., there may be a valid case. It could be argued that the drugstore should have had an employee walking the aisles regularly—not constantly, but at reasonable intervals—to check for any problems.
In practice, these cases are often difficult to win because it is hard to prove for how long the dangerous condition existed prior to a fall. If the business had no way of knowing about the dangerous condition before the incident occurred, then it was not negligent in failing to remedy it, and there probably will be no case.
What to do After a Slip and Fall Accident
If someone is injured in a fall on the premises of a business, there are steps the injured person can take that will help:
- Take photographs of the dangerous condition, both close-ups and wider shots of the area, right after the fall
- Report the incident immediately to an employee of the business
- Be civil, but insist that an incident report be prepared
- Seek medical treatment right away, and follow any recommendations made by the treating physician
- Contact a lawyer as soon as possible, so as to maximize the chances that important evidence, such as video images from the store’s cameras, are preserved before it disappears.
Hiring an Experienced Lawyer
In slip-and-fall cases, an experienced slip-and-fall lawyer is essential. Many issues will have to be explored, including:
- What are the nature and extent of the injured person’s injuries?
- How exactly did the accident happen?
- What caused the dangerous condition?
- How long had the dangerous condition existed?
- Were there any warning signs in an appropriate place?
- Does the business have records showing that it made—or did not make—regular “sweeps” of the aisles?
- Does the business have records showing that the dangerous condition had previously been reported to management?
- Does the business have video recordings showing the incident, or showing the area before the incident (which could show that the dangerous condition was present hours before the incident occurred)
- Does the business have an incident report, and if so, what does it say?
- Were there eyewitnesses to the fall? If so, can they be located and interviewed?
- Who were the employees of the business responsible for discovering and fixing the problem?
- Who are the appropriate defendants? Potential defendants include the business, individual employees of the business, the business’s landlord, any separate maintenance company, and/or the maker or seller of a product that was involved in causing the injury.
- What sources of insurance coverage are available, and what are the policy limits?
- Is there any source of recovery besides insurance?
- How likely or unlikely is it that the injured person’s own negligence caused the fall, wholly or in part?
Compensated Expenses After an Injury
If it is proven that the business (or other potential defendants) was negligent and that its negligence resulted in a personal injury to a customer, then the business (or other defendant) will be responsible for paying the injured person’s medical expenses and compensating him or her for other losses, as allowed under the law, such as:
- Medical expenses
- Emergency room
- Diagnostic testing, such as x-rays, CT scans, etc.
- Primary care physician
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Chiropractic care
- Medical devices
- Cost of medical treatment you are likely to need in the future
- Lost wages
- Future loss of income
- Property damage (for example, broken eyeglasses)
- Physical pain and emotional suffering
In rare cases, when the business’ conduct was more than negligent—reckless or willful, for instance—punitive damages may also be recoverable.
In some very serious circumstances, the injured person’s family members may also be entitled to compensation.
Contact Us Today
The lawyers at Mickle & Bass are experienced in handling South Carolina slip-and-fall cases. We can determine whether you have a valid case—at no cost to you. If you do have a case, we will thoroughly investigate your claim; gather all necessary evidence; pursue the claim; file a lawsuit, if necessary; negotiate with the insurance company; and work hard to resolve your case.
Don’t wait to call—it is important to begin gathering evidence as soon as possible after your accident. It is also important to call as soon as possible because of the deadlines involved in filing a slip-and-fall lawsuit. Contact us today for a free consultation.