While you know to be cautious on the road, you might not think about the hidden dangers lurking on sidewalks, in parking lots, or in your local grocery or department stores. Fortunately, most businesses are diligent about taking care of their premises and looking out for the safety of their customers. However, now and again mistakes will be made and you could be injured as a result.
Imagine you are on your way home from work and you stop at the grocery store to pick up a few items for dinner. You make your way around the store picking up a few items and putting them in your basket. After grabbing some tomatoes you take a step forward and the next thing you know your feet slip out from underneath you and you fall backwards. You have your basket in one hand so you put your other arm out to brace the fall, but as your hand hits the ground you hear a snap. You’ve broken your wrist. As your wrist gives out you also slam your head against the floor causing a concussion. After a visit to the emergency room, you’re told you’ll be in a cast for 6 to 8 weeks and due to the head injury you can’t drive or go back to work until cleared by your physician. You have no extended health insurance and no savings. How are you going to cover the cost of your treatment and pay the bills?
A slip and fall lawsuit is also known as an occupiers’ liability claim. This is because the liability of the establishment will be based on the injured person being able to satisfy a breach of the Occupier’s Liability Act. The fall and resulting injury does not prove liability. To make an occupier (i.e. the grocery store) responsible in law you will need to be able to prove that the occupier did not take the proper precautions to ensure that you would be reasonably safe in using the premises. In doing so, you must be able to point to: (1) an unusual danger; and (2) some act or failure to act which caused your injury. Because the law does not require perfection (an occupier is not expected to insure everyone who is injured on the premises), an occupier may avoid liability if it has a reasonable system of inspection in place to guard against the danger and it takes steps to ensure that the system is being followed. You must also demonstrate that you were looking out for your own safety.
Using the example above, to be successful in a lawsuit against the grocery store you would need to prove that there was something on the floor (i.e. water, fruit, etc.), the item caused your fall, you were aware of your surroundings and looking out for your own safety, and the store failed to implement or carry out reasonable and realistic procedural safeguards for maintaining the floor in a safe condition (i.e. using mats, conducting inspections and sweeping the floors throughout the day). In most cases an investigation of the circumstances will be required before a recommendation on proceeding with a lawsuit can be made.
*Important Note: The information contained in this column should not be treated by readers as legal advice and should not be relied on without detailed legal counsel being sought.