Slip & Fall Fault and Liability

“Slip and Fall” – Fault and Liability 101

Slip and fall” is a legal term of art for a particular type of personal injury lawsuit in which an individual either slips or trips, falls, and is injured on another person’s property. Since the accidents occur on someone else’s property, slips and falls are also commonly known as “premise liability” cases. Due to the very nature of business, in which employees or negligent property owners neglect proper protocols, slips and falls are quite common.

According to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), slips and falls account for account for over 1 million emergency room visits, represent the primary cause of lost work days, are the leading cause of workers’ compensation claims, and are the leading cause of occupational injury for people 55 years and older.

These statistics should not be surprising. In many retail businesses, employees are negligent in their job responsibilities. It is common that liquids or other slippery substances do not get cleaned off the floor fast enough before a customer slips and falls. Additionally, oftentimes customers remain distracted by their cell phone devices and do not walk with proper care.

Some other common types of dangerous conditions may include:

  • Outdoor hazards, like snow, ice, rain, cracked pavement or uneven terrain,
  • Torn carpeting,
  • Broken or cracked flooring,
  • Unexpected steps or small rises on the floor,
  • Overly crowded aisles,
  • Overstocked shelves,
  • Inadequate lighting, and
  • Old, damaged, or narrow stairs.


Property Where Slips and Falls Occur

A slip and fall lawsuit occurs when a person is injured on the property, or “premises” of another person or business entity. If the accident occurs on commercial property, the liability will rest primarily with the owner or possessor of the property. Slips and falls on commercial property are the most common type of premise liability lawsuits. The requirements for slip and fall negligence cases require elements of a negligence claim to be proven. A negligence claim requires that a party demonstrate that a duty has been breached that directly results in damages.

If the accident occurs on residential property, an owner of the property may be liable to the injured party, especially in circumstances when the owner had control over the dangerous condition, the condition would not have been unreasonably expensive or difficult to repair, the injury was foreseeable, and the owner’s failure to remedy the dangerous condition resulted in the injury.

If the accident occurs on governmental property, including federal, state, or municipality property, the requirements for slip and fall negligence cases require  all the elements of a negligence claim to be proven but there are also additional elements that a plaintiff must satisfy. In particular, the plaintiff must give “notice” of a claim to the appropriate governmental entity in a timely manner. The plaintiff needs to be certain that the claim is filed with the court of proper jurisdiction and served on the governmental entity in a timely manner. The amount of time to serve notice on a governmental entity may be as little as 30 days in some jurisdictions.

Although the notice requirements vary according to the jurisdiction, the typical information included in a slip and fall claim generally must include:

  • The plaintiff’s name and address,
  • A detailed summary of the circumstances surrounding the injury,
  • A statement of the claim and allegations as to the cause of the injury, presumably by the government’s negligence,
  • A detailed description of the plaintiff’s injury, and
  • The date of the incident that caused the injury.


Establishing Fault and Liability in Slip and Fall Lawsuits

“Fault” and “liability” are essentially the same concept but are occasionally used interchangeably. Most civil law attorneys use the terms “fault” and “liability” in a civil lawsuit which is similar in meaning to the term “guilty” in a criminal case.

Slip and fall claims are typically based on the negligence of the property owner. To establish negligence in a slip and fall case, the alleged victim must show:

  • The property owner owed a duty of care to the victim,
  • The property owner breached that duty of care though negligence,
  • The victim was damaged, i.e., hurt in some fashion, and
  • The property owner’s negligence caused the damage to the victim.


A duty of care can, in many ways, be considered the crux of a personal injury claim, including slip and fall claims. Simply put, negligence is a breach of the duty of care. If a person owes no duty of care to another person, it is impossible to breach any duty and therefore be considered negligent. The basic rule is that all persons have a legal duty to act reasonably to avoid causing injury to other persons.

The Duty of Care

All people owe other people a standard duty of care to prevent harm. A person must act reasonably to avoid causing injury to other persons. The duty extends to preventing any harm that a “reasonable” person would protect against.

The “reasonable person” standard typically finds that there is a duty of care for a person to act towards others and the public with the watchfulness, attention, caution and prudence that a reasonable person in the circumstances would use.” In instances in which a person is injured during a slip and fall accident, the jury may assess whether a reasonable person would exercise the care to prevent the accident. In a slip and fall case, like any other type of negligence case, the plaintiff is trying to convince a jury that the defendant did not behave as a reasonable person would in regard to remedying the existence of a dangerous condition.


If a plaintiff can establish that a duty of care existed, and that the defendant breached that duty by acting negligently, the plaintiff then must prove that the negligent behavior resulted in the injury; i.e., that the plaintiff was “damaged” by the defendant’s negligence. Causation is typically considered in two ways: actual cause and proximate cause.

Actual cause can be thought of as factual analysis of the circumstances. That is, that the defendant’s negligence actually or factually did cause the injury to the plaintiff. For example, when a person slips and falls in a retail store aisle where there has been a spillage and then claims that the slip and fall directly resulted from the spill and the accident would not have occurred ‘but for’ the spill. This is commonly known as the “but for” test, in that but-for a spill in the store, the plaintiff would not have been injured.

Proximate cause revolves around the issue of foreseeability. A defendant is only responsible for injuries to a plaintiff that were reasonably foreseeable. This is commonly known as the “foreseeability” test. It is worth noting, the standard of care is a ‘reasonableness standard’.

Hiring an Attorney in a Slip and Fall Case

Slip and fall claims often require an experienced attorney with specialized knowledge to prove fault and demonstrate liability. An attorney can assist a client in marshaling the facts and evidence to strengthen the claim and increase the probability of success on the merits. Attorneys familiar with slip and fall claims will oftentimes hire outside third parties to seek out and obtain witness statements; and photographic or video evidence to demonstrate the unsafe condition that resulted in injury. Slip and fall attorneys are familiar with the type of evidence that is necessary to prove a claim so they will also have the expertise to properly depose a witness and obtain adverse statements against the opposing party.

Slip and fall claims are oftentimes negotiated by the insurance carrier. It is not uncommon for an insurance policy to cover the risk of injury from a slip and fall injury and pay out on a claim. Insurance companies are prone to attempt to settle those types of claims when the fault of the party is high. This is especially true when the damages to the injured party is significant. Insurance carriers have the expertise to properly value a “slip and fall” claim and it is not uncommon for an attorney and an insurance company to reach a settlement without the need for a long and costly trial. footer Add