Drip. Drip. Drip. Maria wondered who would get ice out of that nasty, rusted, leaking ice machine. Good thing there are rubber mats on the floor.
Her thought process was interrupted by the piercing screams of a woman that bore a striking resemblance to Betty White. Maria ran around the aisle and almost ended up on her keister. The leaky water had pooled and traveled into the packaged meat section of the grocery store, where an elderly woman was now writhing in pain on the floor.
This is what lawyers refer to as a slip and fall case. What should you do when you, or a loved one, ends up on the floor?
You can’t win a case that you can’t prove. Nearly everyone these days has a cell phone with a camera. If you are still physically able, or if you are accompanied by a friend, take pictures of the slippery substance. Get contact information for the witnesses. Gather evidence now, as the store will be sure to clean up to prevent additional injuries.
You’ll also want to note the condition of the slippery substance. Is it congealed or partially dried up? How long does it appear to have been there? Was it caused by a spill, or is it something coming from the store’s equipment, such as the leaky ice machine? Finally, are there surveillance cameras in the store?
Most importantly, make sure the injured person — whether it’s you or a friend — gets medical treatment. This is not the time to act tough. If you slipped and broke your bum, waiting to seek help could raise questions as to whether the injury was from the slip and fall or from something else. Also, you don’t want the injury to get worse or to suffer in pain.
The legal concepts that make up premises liability are mostly straightforward. Property owners that allow the public onto their land are required to inspect for known dangers and to keep the premises safe for guests.
Often, these slip and fall cases turn on how long the slippery substance was on the floor. Has there been a leaky ice machine creating a hazard for months before Betty broke a hip? Or did Satan’s spawn pour his water bottle on the floor to watch the old people fall? A store is less likely to be liable for Rosemary’s baby than it is for being too lazy to clean the floors.
The concept can be summarized as a question of reasonableness. Would the reasonable store owner have discovered the hazard in the time that it was on the floor?