Slip and Fall

22 August 2022
Ryan M Harrell
Slip and Fall

When a customer goes into a place of business, such as a supermarket or department store, and is injured by slipping and falling on a substance or tripping over an object, many people immediately assume the business is liable for the customer’s injuries. After all, because the injury occurs on the store’s property, which is presumably under the control of the store, why wouldn’t the store be responsible?

The answer to this question is not quite this simple, however. As general rule, a business is not a guarantor of the safety of its customers, meaning such a store is not automatically liable for any injury occurring on its premises. This does not mean a business is always immune from liability arising from such injuries, but as with many issues in the field of personal injury law, whether a slip and fall injury is successful depends significantly on the circumstances.

One common way for a business to escape liability for a slip and fall injury is by demonstrating the hazard that caused the injury was “open and obvious.” A good example of an open and obvious hazard would be bright red juice spilled on a solid white floor, in a well-lit area of a business. Ohio courts have held this type of hazard is so readily apparent to anybody encountering it, its obviousness serves as its own warning, eliminating any need for the business to warn customers of the hazard or even address it. In a minority of cases, an open and obvious hazard can nevertheless create liability for the business if the area contains conditions or items likely to distract a customer’s attention from the hazard, such as a sales display with bright flashing lights. These “attendant circumstances” can be a complex and nuanced issue in slip and fall cases, and best addressed by an attorney skilled in asserting this exception to the general open and obvious rule.

Even if the hazard is not readily apparent, as an example, the presence clear liquid on a floor or a stumbling block in a low-light area, an injured customer still needs to prove one of two things: First, the customer would need to demonstrate the hazard was created by an employee or employees of the business itself. Examples of this might be a leaking drink cooler or an employee who accidentally drops merchandise such as a bottle of water onto the floor, bursting it in the process. The rationale here is the business should be well-aware of hazards caused by items, processes, or people within its control, along with the need to protect customers from the hazard.

Second, if the hazard was created by someone such as a fellow customer, who would be outside the store’s direct control, the customer must show the hazard was actually known to an employee or employees of the store, or in the alternative, show the hazard existed for long enough that employees of the store should have noticed it, even if they did not. These factors are known, respectively, as “actual notice” and “constructive notice,” and the customer must prove one of these existed in any injury claim in which a customer was injured by a hazard caused by a third-party. It is only through this that a business can be deemed negligent and required to compensate the injured person.

In summary, businesses can be held liable for hazards on their premises, but they also can assert multiple defenses to liability, any of which, if established, would end any claim for injury. Because businesses are often in a strong position as a result, a substantial number of slip and fall injury claims cannot be resolved without the injured person filing a lawsuit and establishing facts similar to those discussed above. As simple as the mechanism of injury can be in a slip and fall case, the process of proving liability is often anything but. The attorneys at Green Haines Sgambati are experienced in slip and fall litigation, along with the tactics that provide the best chances of success in these often-difficult claims. If you have been injured through the carelessness of a business in maintaining its premises, our attorneys will be happy to speak with you.

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