Did you slip and fall at a commercial business, a public area, or a private residence in Washington? If so, you may be eligible for compensation for your injuries. An experienced slip and fall lawyer can help you understand your legal options.
What Is a Slip and Fall Accident?
Slip and fall accidents are the biggest source of premises liability claims. According to the National Floor Safety Institute, slips and falls account for more than one million hospital visits in the U.S. each year. This type of accident occurs when someone slips or trips over a slippery or uneven surface or an obstacle in the walkway. Some common causes of slip and fall or trip and fall accidents include:
- Wet or uneven surfaces
- Cluttered floors
- Loose or torn flooring material
- Defective Sidewalks
- Potholes in parking lots
- Poorly constructed staircases
- Poor lighting that makes it difficult to see obstacles
- Electrical cords running across walkways
- Open desk or cabinet drawers
- Transitions from one type of flooring to another, such as from wood to carpet
- Missing or broken handrails
- Snow or ice. Washington doesn’t require the removal of snow or ice that accumulates naturally. However, if the property owner does decide to remove the snow or ice, it must not be done in a negligent manner.
While slip and fall accidents may seem like minor events, the injuries they cause can be quite serious, particularly for the elderly. Some common injuries suffered in slip and fall accidents are:
- Traumatic brain injury: Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury, according to information from the Mayo Clinic, particularly for older adults and young children. While a mild traumatic brain injury may cause temporary cell damage, a more severe injury can result in bruising, torn tissues, bleeding and other physical damage to the brain that can have long-lasting impacts on the sufferer’s life and can even result in death.
- Hip and other bone fractures: Fractures are among the most serious consequences of falls and are the result of about 5 percent of all falls, the National Floor Safety Institute notes. Hip fractures are the most serious of fall-related fractures, heavily impacting the elderly population. Falls are the second leading cause of injury-related death for those aged 65 – 85, and the leading cause of injury-related death for those over 85. 60 percent of the deaths caused by falls are among those who are 75 or older. Each year, 30 percent of the population over 65 will suffer a fall. Of those, 10 percent will result in serious injuries. Other common sites for bone fractures from falling include the wrists, from the falling person attempting to “catch” —themselves with their hands.
- Ankle injuries: A twisted ankle from an uneven or slippery surface or improperly constructed staircase can cause a fall.
- Back and spinal cord injuries: The back is heavily relied on by the body for balance. When that balance is disrupted, back problems—including spinal cord injuries, damaged vertebrae, bone fractures, or damage to the soft tissues—may result. Tailbone injuries are frequently caused by individuals landing on their backsides during a fall.
Is the Property Owner Liable for Your Slip and Fall Injury?
Not all falls are the responsibility of the property owner. In order to prove that the property owner was liable in your case, you must be able to show:
- The property owner had a duty of care to keep his or her property properly maintained and free of obstacles.
- A hazardous condition was present on the property that the owner knew about or reasonably should have known about and nothing was done to fix this hazardous condition or to warn others of its existence.
- You were injured as a result of the property owner’s negligence in keeping his or her property safe.
The duty of care is different depending on what type of visitor you were to the property.
What Type of Visitor Were You?
Property owners—whether public, commercial, or private—owe a duty of care to their visitors. However, the duty of care that was owed to you depends on which type of visitor you were. Visitors are categorized as invitees, licensees, or trespassers. Here is a brief look at the duty of care that is required for each type of visitor:
- Invitee: Invitees are individuals who are invited onto the property to do business. Some examples of invitees include customers at a store, or a plumber you hired to do work at your house. The owner’s duty of care to an invitee is to keep property in a reasonably safe condition and to regularly inspect the property for hazards and to either fix those problems or property caution visitors to the hazards with a warning posted in plain sight.
- Licensee: A licensee is one who visits the property through the owner’s implied consent. Licensees are often family or friends who have been invited to one’s property as a social guest. The duty of care that a property owner has to licensees is to take action to make the property safe or to warn the licensee of the hazardous condition.
- Trespasser: Trespassers are visitors who are on the property without permission. While there is no formal duty of care expected from property owners to trespassers, it is illegal in Washington to attempt to deliberately harm trespassers, such as by creating booby traps or other hazards.
- Children: Property owners have a special duty of care in regards to children, even if the children are trespassers. The duty of care for children includes keeping the property reasonably safe and free from attractive nuisances such as unsecured swimming pools, abandoned cars, abandoned refrigerators and other potential hazards that a child’s natural curiosity may cause them to explore.
How Property Owners Should Prevent Slip and Fall Accidents
Property owners are required to keep their property reasonably safe for visitors. Here are some ways that this can be accomplished:
- Regularly inspect conditions both indoor and outdoors, repairing damaged walkways promptly.
- If you’re unable to immediately repair a walkway hazard, verbally caution visitors to your home and clearly mark the dangerous area with warning signs and caution tape if it is present in your business.
- Keep walkways clean of debris, including water or other slippery substances as well as boxes and other obstacles.
- Carefully and completely remove all snow and ice that may cause visitors to slip.
- Caution your visitors to freshly mopped or waxed floors.
- Repair broken handrails on staircases.
What Can I Do to Help My Slip and Fall Case
If you’ve slipped and fallen due to a dangerous condition on someone else’s property, the preservation of evidence in your case is important. Here are some tips on how to collect and preserve evidence that could show negligence in a slip and fall case:
- Seek prompt medical treatment for your injuries. Not only is this important for your own safety against dangerous complications from injuries, but it also begins the medical “paper trail” for proving your damages.
- Take pictures of the place in which you were injured. Your pictures should show the dangerous condition that caused your accident, any posted signs that warn visitors of the hazard, and any visible injuries you acquired in the fall.
- If the fall occurred at a business or on public property, file a written complaint with the manager of the property and keep a copy of that complaint for your records.
- Get the names and contact information of anyone who witnessed your accident.
- Contact a personal injury attorney with experience in premises liability cases who can guide you through the legal process.
How Washington Protects the Victims of Slip and Fall Accidents
Washington allows the victims of slip and fall accidents to seek compensation from negligent property owners through either an insurance claim or through a premises liability lawsuit, which is a form of a civil suit in which you must prove that the property owner acted negligently. Here are some of the highlights of premises liability laws in Washington:
- Statute of limitations: The time limit in which one must file a premises liability lawsuit is three years from the date of the accident.
- Comparative negligence: Even if you were partially responsible for your slip and fall accident, you still may be able to seek compensation from the property owner, if they too had responsibility for your accident. However, any award you receive will be reduced by your percentage of responsibility. For example, if you were found to be 10 percent responsible for the accident, your compensatory award would be reduced by 10 percent.
- Washington allows the plaintiffs of premises liability lawsuits to seek both economic and non-economic damages. Some of the damages that can potentially be sought include current and future medical expenses, out-of-pocket expenses, the cost of household services you’re no longer able to perform due to your injury, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
- Premises liability suits can be filed against both private and commercial property owners, as well as city, county, or state governmental entities. Some examples of situations that may give rise to a premises liability tort action against the government include slips and falls on improperly maintained sidewalks or bike paths, negligently maintained crosswalks, and slip and fall hazards at a public school facility or playground. The state’s Office of Risk Management must receive a tort claim form to initiate action against an at-fault governmental entity. You then must wait for 60 days before filing a lawsuit.
Slip and Fall Accidents in the News
According to an article from KIRO 7 News, a 19-year-old University of Washington student died after she slipped and fell on campus. The campus police responded to a call for assistance on the morning that the student fell, with a report that she had suffered a head injury. She later died at the hospital and the medical examiner stated that her cause of death was a blot clot that traveled to her lung. Days after the incident, signs on the sidewalk could be seen, warning people of ice that could cause the walkway to be slippery. However, the signs were not in place at the time of the accident. The university sent out a statement reporting that the student collapsed from a medical condition caused by the blood clot in her lung and that she did not slip as initially reported. The investigation into the incident was ongoing as of the report.
A woman filed a lawsuit against two businesses after she suffered injuries due to a trip and fall accident in December. The 70-year-old woman was Christmas shopping with her daughter when she tripped over a dangerous curb located between a theater and a bank building. She fell on her face, suffering gashes and severe bleeding from her nose, mouth, back, and legs, and also lost teeth in the accident. The suit seeks $25,000 to cover incurred medical bills. Reportedly both businesses were advised by the police department in Northville about the dangerous condition presented by the curb. Although changes to Michigan law make it harder to file a claim against businesses for damaged sidewalks, the woman’s attorney argues that the damage to the curb was not open and obvious and, therefore, the lawsuit could go forward.
A jury will decide whether a man’s injuries were caused by police violence or a slip and fall. In 2014, the man suffered a broken neck while being arrested. The man was left a quadriplegic due to the accident, which police say occurred when he slipped and fell as he was running from them. Medical experts prepared to testify for the man say that the injury likely occurred when officers stepped on the man’s neck, however, and were worsened when they moved him in spite of him saying that he couldn’t feel his legs. Surveillance video of the arrest was of such poor quality that it is not clear how much force was used, the article noted.
We Can Help if a Slip and Fall Hurt You
If you were injured in a slip and fall accident, you may qualify for compensation via a premises liability lawsuit. Our slip and fall lawyer is eager to talk to you about your options. For a free consultation and case review, contact Boohoff Law online or by calling (877) 999-9999.