Trip & Fall and Slip & Fall Injuries

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July 26, 2009

Among the most common premises-related cases are slip and fall cases, in which the plaintiff is injured after slipping on a foreign substance, and trip and fall cases, in which the plaintiff falls after tripping on an obstruction. Despite the high frequency of their occurrence, slip and fall cases (used generically to encompass both types) pose many difficult legal problems for the practitioner in such areas as notice, proof, and contributory and comparative negligence.

Slip & Fall Injuries

One of the most common of all types of premises-related injuries is the ubiquitous slip and fall accident.[1] Although often associated with mental images of some unsuspecting victim who slips on a discarded banana peel and falls head-over-heels into a sprawling heap, only to arise unscathed by the entire incident, in reality slip and fall injuries all too frequently result in seriously disabling personal injuries which are no laughing matter. In fact, slip and fall injuries represent one of the leading causes of accidental death in America each year.[2]

This type of injury most commonly occurs when the plaintiff, typically a business invitee on the defendant's commercial premises, slips on a foreign substance or an otherwise slippery floor, and sustains a personal injury as a result of the subsequent fall. Many slip and fall injuries involve static or stationary conditions. Such a condition is one that does not change rapidly over time. Other slip and fall injuries involve transitory conditions. These are conditions such as water, ice and a variety of different spilled, foreign substances on the floor that do change frequently over the course of time.

The landowner's duty of care, in some instances, may vary, depending on the type of condition involved. For example, in static defect claims, once a person has successfully negotiated a particular hazard on a previous occasion, knowledge of the presence of that hazard is more easily than in situations where the hazard is transitory. Nevertheless, in either situation the injured entrant must first establish that the injury-causing hazard or condition actually existed on premises that were owned by or otherwise under the control of the party against whom liability has been asserted. The legal principles involved in the assessment of the defendant's tort liability are generally no different than those which are caused by any other type of premises defect.

As an illustration, consider the typical slip and fall injury in which the plaintiff, while shopping in the defendant's supermarket, steps on a grape which has spilled onto the floor near the produce aisle and sustains a serious injury from the ensuing fall. Even assuming the presence of the grape on the floor of the produce aisle constituted an unreasonably dangerous condition existing on the defendant's premises, proof is seldom available to establish that the defendant had actual knowledge of the spilled grape prior to the customer's fall. The grape may have been dropped, either inadvertently or intentionally, onto the floor by the defendant's employee, another previous customer, or even the injured plaintiff herself only a relatively brief time before the fall. Absent proof as to the length of time during which the hazard was allowed to remain on the floor prior to the plaintiff's injury, the defendant may not have acted at all unreasonably in failing to clean up the spilled grape before such an injury could occur. Moreover, these problems may be exacerbated if the spilled substance, in this case a grape, is located in another area of the store far removed from the produce aisle.

Trip & Fall Injuries

Trip and fall injuries are those which occur when the plaintiff trips over a hazard or obstruction on the defendant's premises and sustains an injury from the subsequent fall. Although trip and fall injuries may result from dangerous or defectively maintained conditions on the premises, such as sidewalks, entrance ways, parking lots, and other areas,[3] often such injuries are caused by the actual merchandising techniques employed by the commercial premises owner or occupant. For example, a store owner may crowd the aisled with merchandise and displays which protrude into the walkways and create an unreasonable hazard to shoppers, or the customer's attention may be intentionally attracted by the manner in which particular merchandise is displayed, resulting in a distraction which subsequently prevents a shopper from avoiding even obvious hazards or other obstructions on the premises.

[1] See generally Annot., Liability of Operator of Store, Office, or Similar Place of Business to Invitee Slipping on Spilled Liquid or Semi-liquid Substance, 26 A.L.R.4th 481 (1983) ; Annot., Liability of Operator of Grocery Store to Invitee Slipping on Spilled Liquid or Semi-liquid Substance, 24 A.L.R.4th 696 (1983) ; Annot., Liability of Owner of Store, Office, or Similar Place of Business to Invitee Falling on Tracked-In Water or Snow, 20 A.L.R.4th 438 (1983); Annot., Store or Business Premises Slip-and-Fall: Modern Status of Rules Requiring Showing of Notice of Proprietor of Transitory Interior Condition Allegedly Causing Plaintiff's Fall, 85 A.L.R.3d 1000 (1978).

[2] See P. Arnold, Emergency Handbook 221 (1980). Falls rank only behind motor vehicle accidents as the leading cause of accidental fatalities in this country.

[3] Kapilotis v. Shop Rite Supermarket, Inc., 14 Conn. App. 250 (1988) (uneven rug caused by piece of candy underneath rug).