There are all sorts of reasons why a person might slip, fall, and suffer an injury. Often these unfortunate events can be traced back to the negligence of the property owner, occupier, or one of their employees. In this scenario, the injured party (or their surviving family) may be able to recover compensation for various economic and non-economic damages.
If you or someone you love tripped or slipped and fell due to an uneven floor surface, you may be wondering if you even have grounds for a claim. Because every case is unique and most premises liability attorneys offer free case evaluations, the best way to find out if your claim has merit is to speak with a lawyer. And the sooner you schedule this consultation, the better—because valuable evidence may be altered, destroyed, or otherwise become unavailable within just a few days of your injury.
This legal consultation will be the perfect time to ask questions about the proceedings, case law, and statutes that pertain to your claim. Below we’ve provided the answers to a few general questions about slip, trip, and fall cases that involve uneven floor surfaces:
1. What Is the Difference Between Invitees, Licensees, and Trespassers?
The great majority of personal injury claims are brought on the basis of negligence—and slip and fall claims are no exception. “Negligence” in tort law refers to one party’s breach of the duty of care owed to another party. Thus, in order to prevail in a slip and fall claim, one of the critical elements to prove will be that the defendant somehow breached the duty of care owed to you—or to your deceased family member. You will also have to demonstrate how the breach of duty was a proximate cause of the injury or death.
The duty of care that a property owner or occupier owes to an individual on their premises depends on why that individual is on the premises in the first place. Most slip and fall claims are brought by invitees who are injured on a commercial property. In premises liability law, the term “invitee” refers to an individual who is on a property for business dealings with the property owner or occupier. Examples include patrons at restaurants, customers at supermarkets, and shoppers at retail stores.
Besides invitees, there are two other categories of visitor status: licensee and trespasser. A licensee is a party who is on a property by invitation but not for business dealings with the property owner or occupier. Friends invited to dinner at your home, for example, would be licensees. Trespassers, on the other hand, are individuals who are on a property without invitation or other right to be there.
As we will discuss in the next point, invitees are owed a higher duty of care than licensees and trespassers.
2. Do Business Owners Have a Duty to Inspect Their Premises for Invitees?
Yes, business owners are required to perform regular inspections of their premises to identify dangerous conditions that have a reasonable probability of causing injury to invitees. Further, they must remedy such conditions within a reasonable timeframe or put up warnings about such conditions to protect invitees. This duty of inspection does not extend to licensees or trespassers.
Even if a business owner did not have actual knowledge of the uneven floor surface that caused your fall, it may still be possible to prove that he or she (or an employee) had constructive knowledge. One way to establish constructive knowledge is to prove that the dangerous condition existed for a sufficient amount of time as to be discovered through the exercise of reasonable diligence. There are many kinds of evidence your slip and fall attorney might use to prove constructive knowledge including:
- Surveillance recordings;
- Deposition from business staff and eyewitnesses;
- The incident report;
- Pictures of the uneven floor surface; and
- Property maintenance records.
3. Can Business Owners Be Held Liable for the Negligence of Their Employees?
In some cases, yes, business owners can be held liable for the negligence of employees; however, in order for vicarious liability to apply, it must be shown that the employee was acting within the scope of his or her employment when the negligent act or omission transpired. For example, if the employee was off work but on the business premises and somehow created the uneven surface that caused your fall, it is unlikely that you would be able to hold the employer vicariously liable for your damages.
4. What If the Business Owner Withholds Evidence of Negligence?
It is not uncommon for valuable evidence to be in the defendant’s possession. This is especially true in premises liability cases since much of the evidence needed to prove negligence and causation will be on the actual property, such as surveillance footage, the incident report, and the hazard that caused your fall. If the defendant refuses to hand over evidence voluntarily, your attorney may still be able to obtain it by filing a subpoena.
5. What If I Did Not Document the Hazard That Caused My Fall?
If you intend to bring a premises liability claim, it is always a good idea to seek legal counsel right away—no matter the circumstances. But this is especially important if you did not thoroughly document the scene. It is likely that your case will be much stronger if your lawyer is able to document the dangerous condition that caused your fall, but the defendant might fix it within just a few hours or days of the incident. There are many kinds of evidence that may be time sensitive, so the sooner your attorney can conduct the investigation, the better.
Speak with a Long Beach Slip and Fall Lawyer Today
Your Injuries Are Personal to Me
If you need legal advice and representation after a slip and fall injury, contact the Law Office of Michael D. Waks to schedule a free consultation. Michael will answer your questions, help you develop a strategic plan of action, and aggressively fight for the highest possible settlement. Call (562) 206-1939 or message us online to set up a case evaluation.
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