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If you have suffered injuries requiring medical attention from a slip-and-fall accident on the property of another – whether it be a store, parking lot, icy/slick steps, or another’s home – it is in your interest to determine whether you are eligible to pursue a personal injury suit to recover the financial damages you have suffered related to medical bills, lost time from work, and pain and suffering. A critical aspect of winning a substantial settlement or verdict in a slip-and-fall action is in proving fault on the part of the defendant. Below we briefly discuss how fault is determined in a California slip-and-fall action.
If a person negligently or intentionally created a danger which caused you to slip and fall – such as by placing a slick substance on your path where you would not see it – that person would be liable for your injuries under an ordinary negligence claim. But, in most slip and fall cases, either the person who actually created the dangerous condition is nowhere to be found, the dangerous condition was not the result of a person’s affirmative action (e.g. a puddle that forms due to a leaky roof or icy steps), or that person does not have sufficient funds to pay for your injuries.
Thus, in most cases, a plaintiff looks to the owner of the property where the fall occurred. Under California law, all property owners (as well as parties who lease, control, or occupy property) have a duty to use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. What this means under the law is that such parties (according to the California jury instructions on a landowner’s duty of care): “must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and to repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others.”
So how does that standard actually work in practice in reaching a finding of fault on the property of the property owner? Essentially, a jury will look at any given set of facts where a slip-and-fall accident occurred and analyze whether the property owner took “reasonable care” to 1) discover the unsafe conditions that caused the fall, and 2) to do something to remedy the unsafe condition, such as cleaning up a spill, replacing uneven tiles on a floor, or placing a clear warning sign at the spot of the unsafe condition.
Take, for example, a large home repair store where a child empties a bag of ball bearings in the aisle. If you come around the corner five seconds after this occurs and slip on the ball bearings, then a jury might determine that the store employees (whose actions are imputed to the store itself) did not have time in which reasonable care would have discovered the unsafe condition. At the same time, the jury might analyze whether merely having the ball bearings in reach of small children presented a dangerous condition that should have been remedied. But if you walk around the corner an hour after the child dumps the ball bearings on the floor, then a jury might conclude that it was unreasonable for the store’s employees not to have noticed the condition and/or remedied it, thus there would be a finding of fault on the part of the store.
If this sounds like a level of uncertainty in determining fault, you would be correct. It can be impossible to determine how a jury might answer the question of what constitutes “reasonable care” but both plaintiffs and defendants are aware of this, and will often reach a settlement on such issues (which account for the uncertainty in the final settlement numbers) before going to a jury. To learn more about the likelihood of finding fault in your slip-and-fall accident, speak with an experienced personal injury attorney about your particular accident.
When you work with the legal team at the Law Offices of Scott Warmuth, you can expect a trusted legal advisor and guide at your side. By contacting us as soon as possible after your injury, we can immediately step into action to begin investigating the accident, gathering evidence, and working with your medical provider to build your best case for maximum recovery.
Our multilingual staff is here to help injured victims and their families across Los Angeles and Southern California. Contact us today to set up an initial consultation regarding your potential claim.
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