The New York Personal Injury Blog

Free Falling: A Slip and Fall Law Primer

It was like an awful scene from "Final Destination." Grandma's electric scooter hit a display at the bodega. The display fell over and knocked a bottle of canola oil off of the shelf. The oil spread, then pooled under the shelf. On the other side of the shelf, a lady's three children were running in circles while she attended to the crying baby in her arms.

Crack. Five-year-old Melanie didn't see a thing before she ended up on her rear. The oil had slithered under the shelf and into the next aisle. Her foot had caught just enough to make her go airborne.

This is your typical slip and fall case. So what do you do when you, or a loved one, ends up on the floor?

Practical Advice

Get evidence while you can. Nowadays, nearly everyone has a cell phone with a camera. If you are not too injured, or if it is a friend that is injured, take pictures of the slippery substance. Get contact information for the witnesses. Get as much evidence as you can now, as the store will be sure to clean up to prevent additional injuries.

Also, check the condition of the slippery substance. Is it congealed or partially dried up? Does it appear to have been there a while? Was it caused by a spill, or is it something coming from the store's equipment, such as a leaky ice machine? Also, are there surveillance cameras in the store?

Get medical treatment for the injured party. This is not the time to play it stoic. If you've just fallen and cracked your coccyx, you don't want there to be questions later about whether it was from the slip and fall, or from something else. You also, obviously, do not want the injury to get worse or to live in pain.

The Law

The law that often applies in a slip and fall is that of premises liability, and it is relatively simple. Owners of property that is open to the public are required to inspect for known dangers and to keep the premises safe for visitors.

Many of these slip and fall cases turn on how long the slippery substance was on the floor. Was there an evil demon child that poured the oil on the floor right before you stepped in it? Or was the oil there for hours before you broke a hip? A store is less likely to be liable for Rosemary's baby than it is for being too disorganized to clean the floors.

This can summarized as a question of reasonableness. Would the reasonable store owner have discovered the hazard in the time that it was on the floor and prevent injury? That, as they say, is the question.

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