Just because you were injured on someone else’s property does not mean that the property owner is automatically liable. You have to prove that the property owner was negligent.
State laws will vary, but in order to prove it, you generally will have to show that the property owner failed to act as a “reasonably prudent” person under the circumstances.
This means the injured party has to show either that the owner knew or should have known of the hazard, had an opportunity to correct it, and failed to take action or that the property owner created the hazard.
Let’s look at a typical example: you are walking through the supermarket and suddenly, your feet go out from under you and you end up on the floor, in terrible pain.
In the first example, the store will likely be liable because its employee created the hazardous condition.
In the second example, the store will likely not be liable because it did not have an opportunity to find out about the condition, or to do something about it.
In the third example, it could go either way: a jury could decide that 20 minutes is too short of a time for the store management to have learned about the spillage. Or, perhaps that it was a reasonable amount of time to have discovered the spillage, but since it was only 20 minutes, they still didn’t have enough of a chance to get to cleaning it up. Or, the jury could decide the store is liable because management should have discovered the spillage and cleaned it up within that time.
This is a fair rule: property owners should keep their property in reasonably safe condition. But, it would be unrealistic to require everyone to keep property in perfectly safe conditions at all times. A store cannot hire employees to accompany each customer as they do their shopping.
All rules have drawbacks. In the example above, how do you prove what it was that you actually slipped on, how it got there or how long it was there?
Many injuries can never be shown to have resulted from the negligence of property owners due to a lack of evidence. But sometimes, such evidence is available.
For example, a lady slipped and fell on a glob of grease while on her way into a store. As she was lying on the sidewalk, a customer came out and saw her. Turns out he knew her, so he stopped to help. He recalled having seen that glob of grease there when he had been on his way into the store 20 minutes earlier.
A woman slipped on spilled milk in a store. Someone had been able to describe the milk as congealed. In order for the milk to get in that condition, it had to have been there for more than a half hour.
A woman slipped on a strawberry in the produce department. A stock clerk had just finished putting strawberries on display, so the most likely conclusion was that she had spilled it.
If you or someone you know is injured on someone else’s property, here is how you might be able to protect your rights.
- Look to see what caused the fall. Was it a slip or a trip?
- Take pictures right then and there. Most of us conveniently carry cell phones with cameras on them.
- If this is a business property (such as a store), have someone take an accident report right away and write down that person’s name.
- Look around to see if anyone saw you and write down those names as well.
When an accident happens, you may not know the extent of your injury right away. Sometimes, the initial pain is severe, but after a few weeks you are as good as new. Other times, you think you can “walk it off” and you are such a tough guy you won’t go to the doctor until someone makes you, and when you do, you find out it is much worse than you thought. Either way, make that report and do it right away.
Some property liability insurance policies include a provision called a “medical payments provision.” Although it is not required, this provision will pay medical expenses up to a certain amount, regardless of fault.
It may not be advisable to try to handle a liability claim yourself. As you can see, this is a tricky business and doing it yourself could lead to further complications and headaches. You would probably be up against professional insurance people, lawyers who have experience in these types of cases and rules upon rules upon rules that you may not know anything about.
A lawyer can advise you on your case, fight for your rights, and may bring you piece of mind. Many personal injury lawyers will provide you with a free consultation. If you’re injured on someone else’s property, you can call a personal injury lawyer in your area.
This article was written by guest blogger, Andrew T. Velonis.