An aspiring dancer walked into a store and slipped on some milk. That sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but it’s actually the beginning of a premises liability case. Anna’s story illustrates what happens when all four elements of a premises liability case exist.
What is a premises liability claim?
A premises liability claim is a request by an accident victim to be compensated for injuries occurring on someone’s property. “Premises” refers to a place such as a business or home. “Liability” refers to the property owner’s negligent failure to keep the property free of dangerous conditions. When the person in control of the premises, usually the owner, fails to keep the property free from hazards, that person has to pay for any harms caused by the hazards.
In the aspiring dancer example, Anna slipped on spilled milk in the dry goods section of a grocery store. The milk was not visible on the white tiled floor, creating a dangerous condition. As Anna slipped, her right knee twisted and she felt a pop with sharp pain. A friend drove her to the hospital, where an MRI revealed a torn ACL. An orthopedist performed arthroscopic surgery, and Anna began an anticipated six-month recovery involving rest and physical therapy.
When the accident occurred in January, Anna was employed as a dancer at a theme park four days a week. Three nights a week, she worked as a waitress at a high-end restaurant. The theme park show in which she danced was closing in March, so Anna was auditioning for other dancing work. Two days before she fell, Anna learned she was a finalist for a new dancing job. A famous pop singer was beginning a national tour in May; rehearsals would begin in March.
What are the elements of a premises liability case?
Not every slip-and-fall accident leads to a personal injury claim. Accidents happen every day that are not the fault of property owners. For a victim to have a valid premises liability claim, four elements must be present:
- Possession or control of the property
- A dangerous condition exists on the property
- Harm to a victim
- Causation (a person is injured due to the dangerous condition on the property)
Anna’s fictional case illustrates each of the elements of a premises liability case.
Ownership or control of the property
Anna asked the store to pay her damages because the store owns and controls the building. Consequently, the store is responsible for ensuring the safety of its customers. Any business that invites patrons in must maintain a safe environment.
If a business rents space, the business owner is in control of the property. This is true even if the landlord is responsible for repairs. The person in control of the premises has a duty to identify potential dangers, take steps to eliminate the dangers, and warn patrons of any hazards.
Negligent maintenance of the property
The store where Anna slipped has a duty to provide a safe environment for shoppers. The store must use reasonable care to keep the store environment safe and in good repair. In addition, the store has an obligation to discover dangerous conditions. If any unsafe condition exists, the store must, within a reasonable time, eliminate the unsafe condition or adequately warn shoppers of the danger.
Duty of care to invitees
In legal terms, customers in a store are called invitees – they are invited in as patrons of the business. Businesses have a higher duty of care to invitees than homeowners do to their guests. The higher duty of care includes an obligation to inspect for unsafe conditions regularly.
For example, grocery stores must regularly check for spilled liquids, products in aisles and anything on floors that can cause a shopper to slip or trip. The frequency of safety checks varies by business. They must occur often enough for a store to discover and rectify dangers to customers within a reasonable amount of time. A failure to discover and remedy dangerous conditions in a timely manner constitutes negligence by the business owner.
Stores should have a reasonable process for discovering and addressing dangerous conditions. This includes inspections or safety sweeps to discover dangers like spills. The store must train all employees on the process, and the store must demonstrate that employees follow the process.
In Anna’s case, the store had a process for ensuring the safety of shoppers. The store’s policy, on which all employees were trained, requires a designated employee to walk the aisles every 30 minutes. The employee looks for hazards. If any are found, the employee takes immediate action to fix the problem or place obvious warning signs around the area. At the end of each safety inspection, the employee documents the process in the sweep log.
Despite training, employees were not following the process when Anna fell. The store’s sweep logs were only partially filled out in December and January. Store employee testimony did not match documentation in the sweep log. In addition, video surveillance contradicted information in the sweep log. The sweep logs appeared unreliable. The store was unsuccessful in using them to prove it had met its duty of care to detect and clean up the milk in a reasonable amount of time after the spill.
Harm to a victim
An accident must cause physical, economic, or emotional injuries to a person. If no one is hurt, a valid premises liability claim does not exist.
Anna suffered extensive physical, economic, and emotional harm as a result of her fall. Her damages included:
- Costs of her medical care: surgery, rehabilitative therapy, medications, travel to doctor appointments, acupuncture for pain management.
- Lost wages because she could not perform in the theme park show or work as a waitress.
- Laundry and shopping services expenses: For the first five weeks after the fall, Anna was unable to take her laundry to a laundromat or to carry groceries. During that time she used a laundry service that could pick up and deliver her laundry and had groceries delivered to her apartment.
- Reduced earning capacity: Anna not only lost her existing jobs, she was unable to audition for future dance jobs until she had fully recovered from the injuries. The value of the lost opportunity to perform in the singer’s tour was harder to calculate than lost wages since she was still in the audition process, but her claim included that.
- Emotional distress: Anna became depressed about the setback in her dance career. She feared that she might never dance well again and that her agent would drop her because of the six-month interruption. Her depression caused insomnia at night and lethargy during the day. She often felt too bad to leave her apartment, which prevented her from participating in PT. Anna’s depression extended her recovery time an additional three months. Her physician did not clear her to start dancing again until nine months after the surgery.
In a premises liability case, the defendant’s negligence must cause the plaintiff’s injuries. For Anna, the store’s failure to notice or clean up the spilled milk caused her to slip and fall. The fall tore her ACL, necessitated surgery and physical therapy, and interrupted her dance career. The spilled milk was not obvious to Anna because it was on a white floor. The spill was in an aisle without liquid products, so there was no reason for a patron to expect a puddle.
A Long Beach Premises Liability Attorney Can Help
Your injuries are personal to me
Proving the elements of a premises liability case requires the help of an experienced personal injury lawyer. These cases are fact-intensive, as illustrated by the fictional example of Anna’s case. Every case is different. I conduct a thorough investigation and work closely with clients to build a persuasive case.
My law practice focuses exclusively on personal injury cases. I have spent the last 30 years helping accident victims obtain fair compensation for their losses. Using my experience, I will help you obtain the maximum compensation to which you are entitled.
I take your injuries personally. That means I handle every aspect of your case and work closely with you until we resolve your case.
Call the Law Office of Michael D. Waks at 888-394-1174 today. Or use the convenient online contact form to schedule a free consultation. Learn how an experienced Long Beach premises liability lawyer can help after a slip-and-fall accident.
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