I would say spills that haven’t been cleaned up is a big cause for falls and injury in places where food is served. In other businesses, it is often a defective condition in the floor or parking area that simply hasn’t been repaired yet. In grocery stores, dropped or loose items like grapes or other fresh produce can be slippery and cause slips. Loose carpeting that’s buckled is a big one because it’s not readily apparent but still poses a substantial risk of fall. Other causes are construction code violations of any nature involving stairs, new structures, or lighting (which can hide hazards); even treadways not being the right size can lead to serious injuries.
I have seen bent thresholds at entryways to businesses where there is that aluminum strip under a door. The company might know about the tear or the bend in the metal that isn’t very visible, but maybe they just haven’t gotten around to fixing it. Someone could trip and suffer fractures.
When it comes to slip-and-fall liability, if a company or landowner is aware of a problem or should be aware of a problem, they have a duty to either fix the problem or, if they can’t fix it right away, warn people. Just the failure to adequately put people on notice that they need to avoid this little area is a significant issue because it’s a simple step that can be taken to avoid injuries.
What Happens If Someone Is Partially at Fault for the Slip-and-Fall or Trip-and-Fall Accident in Indiana?
In Indiana, juries generally view injuries from slip-and-fall-type accidents more skeptically than injuries from automobile crashes. I think that generally arises from two things; one is the perception that people on foot need to do a better job of looking where they’re going in stores. That’s the general attitude that people have about slip-and-fall victims, but there are a lot of improper assumptions made when people jump to that conclusion, and that’s where the art of lawyering comes in.
The second reason slip-and-fall cases are less favorably viewed has to do with control. In automobile crashes, people understand that the injured driver or party couldn’t control the other car that caused their injury. Instead, it was a two-ton projectile that blew a stop sign, and there wasn’t a whole lot that the injured party could do about it. But in a slip-and-fall accident, there’s really no third party. There is a stationary condition, and the general public assumes that you failed in your duty to look out where you’re going for your own safety. People really struggle with understanding why victims don’t see things. Jurors believe that there’s got to be some fault on you if you trip over something that’s right in front of you. However, every slip-and-fall client I’ve ever represented was someone who was proceeding with the same reasonable and ordinary care that any other person would have demonstrated.
With good lawyering, you can do a lot to overcome these obstacles. Nevertheless, a slip-and-fall case is generally going to be worth less for the same injury than an auto case. That’s just a function of the reality that insurance companies will value cases not just based on the injury, but on people’s perceptions of the parties involved and the mechanisms in play that cause the injury.
What Do You Need in Order to Prove a Property Owner Is Liable for a Slip-and-Fall Injury in Indiana?
Landowner liability law involves multiple factors. To start with, you have to look at the injured party and classify them by status. We call it the “status of the entrant upon the land.” In Indiana, there are three classes that the injured party is going to fall into: an invitee, a licensee, or a trespasser.
The highest duty under the law is owed to an invitee, and at the other extreme, a landowner has little or no duty to a trespasser. In fact, your only duty to a trespasser is to keep from willfully injuring that person.
If the injured party is a child, though, there is an exception because under the law, we recognize that the level of mental processing of dangers that children have is lower than adults. So even for trespassers, you have to then look at how old the person who entered the property is. There are items that are considered attractive nuisances. A swimming pool, for instance, is a commonly recognized attractive nuisance, so homeowners need to recognize that even if they don’t invite people over, if there are kids in the area who might be attracted to that pool and not fully appreciate the dangers of the pool, then the homeowner needs to take preventative measures.
So again, the first step is to evaluate which of three categories the injured party is in: invitee, licensee, or trespasser. In most cases, the person is an invitee because they’re either a social guest (in recent years social guests were recognized by the Indiana Supreme Court as an invitee), or they’re a business guest to a commercial property. Invitees are owed the highest duty under Indiana law. Landowners have a duty to look out for the safety of their invitees. Where there are known hazards, they have an obligation to fix and eliminate those hazards, and when they can’t be immediately fixed, they need to adequately warn their invitees that the hazard exists and that precautions are taken to prevent injury of such known hazards. Cases where the injured person are a “licensee” or “trespasser” are much rarer given that the burden on the person or business owning or occupying the property is significantly reduced.
If the injury occurred at a business premises, it is important that we obtain the procedure manuals and policies of the company and how they train their employees on how to inspect the premises and deal with these hazards. Determining whether or not the company follows those procedures can be critical in proving a case. Finding witnesses to substantiate the claims is also important. It’s really helpful to have a witness who saw the fall, and/or saw the hazardous condition that led to the fall.
Those are some of the levels that you have to go through to prove a case. Then, of course, like any other case whether it’s a slip-and-fall or not, you have to obtain the medical records and have your client evaluated to get the extent and scope of their injuries to determine whether or not there’s a permanent injury and what affect that has on their life moving into the future.