The third leading cause of unintentional injury-related death in the United States is falls, according to the National Safety Council (NSC). Slip and fall accidents are more prevalent in autumn; wet weather, slippery leaves, and reduced visibility are some underlying causes of this increase. Property owners have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to protect visitors from these known hazards and to exercise reasonable care in the ownership and maintenance of their property. Therefore, when a visitor is injured in a slip and fall accident on someone else’s property, he or she may be eligible for compensation under premises liability law.
Slip and fall hazards are present throughout the year; however, there are several types of dangers for which property owners should be aware in autumn. Common slip and fall hazards in autumn include the following:
Falling leaves. Leaves on the ground are hazardous. They hide tripping hazards such as holes, uneven ground, or slick surfaces, making it difficult for those walking to avoid such pitfalls. Dry leaves may also accumulate, obscuring curbs and other obstructions. When leaves become wet, they present a slipping hazard; wet leaves can be as slippery as ice, especially when tracked indoors onto a slick surface. Fallen branches, often an outcome of heavy autumn rain, are also hazardous to visitors.
Wet floors. It tends to rain a lot during the autumn season. This means that water may be tracked inside, creating wet, slippery floors. When visitors walk on wet floors, they may slip and fall, especially if they are not wearing slip-resistant shoes. People may become injured in such accidents in grocery stores, office buildings, schools, restaurants, hotels, hospitals, and many other business settings. Common injuries resulting from slip and fall accidents on wet surfaces include muscle sprains and strains, back and neck injuries, and broken bones.
Extension cords. Many businesses decorate their premises with lights for Halloween or for the upcoming holiday season. Business owners should be aware that visitors may trip and fall over extension cords left in walking paths. Other decorations present slip and fall hazards as well if they are not secured properly or obscure walkways. Holiday decorations that are tied over entrances and facades may also become loose and fall, hitting passers-by or causing them to trip.
Snow and ice. The weather becomes cooler in autumn, and as temperatures drop, the potential for snow and ice increases. Snow and ice may accumulate around a building, including on the stairs, in walkways, and in parking lots. This presents a slip and fall hazard, especially when combined with fallen leaves and/or inappropriate footwear. The potential for a slip and fall accident decreases when there are safety measures in place, such as stair guardrails and floor mats.
Inadequate lighting. The end of Daylight Saving Time means less daylight and longer nights. Stairwells, parking lots, or entryways can be hazardous for visitors if they are not properly lit. Areas that may have been adequately lit during the summer and spring months may now be darker at earlier times of day. When property owners do not account for this change, visitors may become injured.
Premises liability pertains to personal injury cases in which someone was injured because of an unsafe or defective condition on another’s property. However, there are specific requirements when it comes to establishing liability. Property owners are liable only for injuries suffered by those who they owe a duty of care. They do not owe a duty of care to everyone who comes onto their property; the extent of a property owner’s duty of care depends on the legal status of the visitor. Under premises liability law, visitors are classified in the following ways:
Invitee. An invitee is a person who has permission from the owner to enter the property for the potential economic benefit of the owner. Examples of invitees include customers at a store, patrons at a restaurant, people hired to perform work on the property, and delivery persons. Invitees are entitled to expect that property owners will exercise reasonable care to make the premises safe for their use; they are owed the highest duty of care. Property owners must routinely inspect the premises for dangerous conditions, warn invitees of any known dangers, and promptly fix hazards.
Licensee. A licensee is a visitor who is invited onto the premises for a purpose other than economic benefit. As with an invitee, an invitation to a licensee may also be express or implied. Examples of licensees include relatives, friends, unsolicited salespeople, and religious missionaries. Property owners still owe a duty of care to licensees, albeit lesser than that owed to invitees. Owners do not have to inspect the premises for hazards or take reasonable steps to fix them, but they do have a duty to warn licensees of known dangers that they are unlikely to discover on their own.
Trespasser. Someone who enters another’s property without consent, express or implied, is considered a trespasser. Trespassers are not authorized to be on the property, and therefore, property owners generally do not owe them a duty of care. There is an exception pertaining to children; under the attractive nuisance doctrine, property owners must take reasonable steps to protect children from hazards on their property that may be attractive to them, such as swimming pools or construction debris.
For a property owner to be liable for a slip and fall accident, the owner must have either caused the dangerous condition to occur, known about the danger but did not take reasonable steps to remedy it, or should have known about the dangerous condition because a reasonable person in their position would have discovered and addressed it. Premises liability claims often hinge on whether the property owner acted reasonably. In determining this, Pennsylvania courts often look to several factors, including the visitor’s legal status, whether invitee, licensee, or trespasser; whether the accident or injury was foreseeable; and whether the owner took reasonable steps to repair or warn visitors of the dangerous condition.
Slip and fall victims should be aware that Pennsylvania follows the modified comparative negligence rule when it comes to premises liability cases. Those who are injured in a slip and fall accident on someone else’s property may be entitled to compensation for their injuries. The amount of damages they can recover depends, in part, on their role in the accident. If a slip and fall victim’s own carelessness contributed to the accident, his or her damages award may be reduced by an amount proportionate to that percentage of fault. For example, if someone is deemed to be 10 percent responsible for the accident, their damages award will be reduced by 10 percent. However, those who are found to be more than 50 percent at-fault for the accident are barred entirely from recovery.
It is important for slip and fall victims to document the circumstances surrounding their accident, such as where and when it occurred. Pictures, witness accounts, and documented medical expenses can all strengthen a premises liability case. Property owners may attempt to avoid liability by making several arguments, including that that the visitor was wearing inappropriate footwear, that he or she was talking on the phone, or that the visitor was in an area closed off to visitors at the time of the accident. A qualified premises liability attorney can help slip and fall victims build a strong case and hold the appropriate parties liable for their injuries.
If you were injured in a slip and fall accident on someone else’s property, contact the Philadelphia premises liability attorneys at Galfand Berger LLP. To schedule a free consultation, call us today at 800-222-8792 or contact us online. With offices in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, Pennsylvania, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey, including Allentown and Harrisburg.