Negligence Can Lead to Slips, Trips, and Falls
To a certain extent, slip and fall accidents are just part of life. We encounter an unexpectedly slick floor, step on a child’s toy, or stumble on the stairs. Most of the time, we sustain no real injury—just some momentary physical discomfort and maybe a bit of embarrassment if our clumsiness was observed by others.
Yet these kinds of accidents can—and sometimes do—lead to severe harm to the victim. Depending on the circumstances surrounding the incident, it may be possible to obtain ample monetary compensation for your injuries if another party can be shown to have contributed substantially to the accident.
Personal injury law regarding slip-and-fall accidents can be confusing, however. It’s not always clear whether a victim can reasonably expect to prevail in court. Let’s take this opportunity to explore what Texas law says about this issue.
Types of Slip-and-Fall Accidents
When it comes to dangers that could result in a nasty fall, there are a nearly unlimited number of potential obstacles out there. Wet walking surfaces pose an obvious, and very common hazard, for pedestrians, as clear liquids or freshly mopped floors often aren’t readily detectable. Damaged or missing floor tiles create an uneven surface that can lead to disaster.
Similarly, a frayed or bunched-up carpet is a potential cause of tripping accidents. Random stray objects lying around also create a danger for walkers—this is an especially frequent hazard in and around construction sites.
Quite a few slip and falls occur in staircases. This is particularly true of publicly accessible staircases that see a lot of daily foot traffic. An individual who spills a drink in these areas is unlikely to go through the bother of cleaning it up, which creates a safety hazard for others.
Sometimes the staircase itself is defective or broken; a stair or handrail may be incapable of supporting the weight of a pedestrian. Poor lighting is an under-recognized threat to pedestrians in these areas, leading to many falls that could otherwise have been avoided.
These are just some examples of slip-and-fall incidents that befall Americans every day.
Injuries Associated with Slip-and-Fall Accidents
As previously noted, most of our slips and trips hurt nothing but our pride, but what happens when we do get injured? This is far more common than you might think. Around one million Americans end up in the hospital every year due to injuries sustained in a slip-and-fall accident—this constitutes 12% of the total emergency room visits due to falls in general.1
Around 5% of falls result in a fracture1—often to a wrist or arm (from attempting to stop a fall), an ankle (from sudden twisting on a hazardous surface), or the hip. That last type of injury is especially dangerous for older adults (age 65+), who can develop fatal health complications from a fracture in this part of the body. In fact, older persons are most likely to experience a fall and to incur major injuries as a consequence.
Head injuries are another potentially life-threatening complication associated with slip-and-fall incidents. These types of injuries can be aggravated if the victim has blood-thinning medication in their system.
Falls from elevated surfaces—e.g., a raised platform—are more dangerous than those on level areas, and they are more likely to result in serious injury.
Consequences of Slip-and-Fall Accidents
A person injured in a slip-and-fall incident is sometimes forced to take time off from his or her job to recuperate. Often, this puts the victim in an unenviable financial state. If the incident happened outside the workplace, the afflicted will be unable to collect worker’s compensation benefits for the injury.
The injured person may be able to take time off under the provisions of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993, which prevents employers from firing or demoting employees who can’t work due to medical issues. However, FMLA leave is unpaid, and not all employees qualify for it.
In some cases, the injured party fails to make a full recovery. The injured limb may be permanently robbed of its normal range of functionality. If the injury is due to be negligence of another party, then victims may be able to obtain a sizable financial settlement that will compensate them for their loss of mobility and, if applicable, reduced income.
The Four Elements of a Slip-and-Fall Case
How can an injured person go about obtaining a settlement? It’s not quite as easy as you may have heard. Under Texas premises liability law, an individual who suffered a significant injury in a slip-and-fall accident must prove four separate elements to prevail. These can be summarized as follows:
- Duty – The other party named in the suit must own, operate, or control the property where the incident occurred.
- Knowledge – The other party must have known (or reasonably should have known) about the hazardous conditions on the site and failed to take proper steps to remediate it.
- Danger – The conditions that led to the accident must have been sufficiently hazardous to have reasonably caused the injury—e.g., a tiny crack in the floor isn’t enough.
- Causation – The injury directly resulted from the hazardous conditions.
In recent years several court decisions—notably Austin v. Kroger Texas LP—have eroded the protections that used to be granted to individuals harmed in a premises liability incident. For instance, property owners no longer have an obligation to warn employees or the public about “open and obvious” dangers.2 Only concealed dangers—e.g., a staircase with a handrail that isn’t securely attached—need be disclosed to persons in the area.
It must also be shown that the business owner knew about the danger. For example, let’s say that a shopper somehow spills water in the aisle of a supermarket and, a few minutes later, a second shopper slips in the puddle and hurts herself. The owners of the premises cannot be held liable for such an incident because they did not cause the mess nor had they any reasonable way of detecting it prior to the accident.
However, owners of premises can be held liable if it can be demonstrated any injured parties were required to be in the area where the accident occurred—such as employees performing their job duties—and, therefore, could not have taken steps to avoid it.
What Is Modified Comparative Negligence?
In the state of Texas, the courts refer to the doctrine of modified comparative negligence when presiding over personal injury cases. Essentially, this means that the amount of money awarded to plaintiffs in a personal injury case can be decreased in proportion to their degree of responsibility for the accident.
Let us explain this doctrine with a fictitious example. In court, it is determined that the plaintiff in a premises liability case is entitled to $500,000 in damages. However, the court also finds that the plaintiff was 20% responsible for the injury. The total amount of the monetary award is then reduced by 20%, for a revised total of $400,000.
Furthermore, if plaintiffs are found to be at least 51% responsible for the incident, then they will be awarded nothing. This is the modified part of the comparative negligence doctrine.
Contact a Texas Premises Liability Attorney Today
It’s important not to dawdle if you have a premises liability case. The state of Texas gives plaintiffs two years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit. Even if you think you have plenty of time, there are other reasons to begin the slip-and-fall lawsuit process as soon as possible, like the need to gather evidence while it is still readily available.
The Houston, TX-based legal team of Schechter, McElwee, Shaffer & Harris has years of experience in handling slip-and-fall negligence cases. We invite you to contact us at 713-364-0723 for a free consultation.