Landlord Liability for a Slippery Surface

If you suffered a slip-and-fall accident on a slick surface, you might feel that your case for compensation is cut and dried. However, there are a number of elements you must establish to prove that the proprietor of the property is liable for your injuries:

  • The defendant proprietor had notice of the slippery condition.
  • The proprietor failed to use ordinary care to remedy the slippery condition.

In cases where the proprietor created the slippery condition, for example by waxing the floor, notice is not an issue. However, when a third party creates a dangerous condition, the proprietor only has a duty to act if he has actual or constructive notice that the condition exists. This depends on the length of time the condition has existed and its location on the premises. If in the judgment of the jury a condition existed for a sufficient time and in such a place where a reasonably attentive proprietor would have discovered it, the jury can impute knowledge. This is called constructive notice.

A proprietor with constructive notice has a duty to remedy the condition either by warning visitors or by removing the hazard. For example, it may be sufficient to post a sign at either end of a freshly mopped floor, warning visitors that the floor is wet.

Here is an example to illustrate some premises liability issues. In a busy supermarket, a shopper knocks over a glass jar of pasta sauce, which shatters. The shopper, seeing no workers present, takes a pop-up safety cone from its stand on the aisle and places it over the spill, then goes off to look for a worker to clean it up. After the shopper has left, a worker notices the safety cone and goes off to get a mop. In the interim, another shopper sees the safety cone and proceeds down the aisle, but slips on a patch of pasta sauce that splattered two feet away from the drop site. Is the supermarket liable for those injuries?

There are arguments the store can make in its defense:

  • The safety cone gave notice that a spill had occurred. The second shopper should have turned back or at least been more careful where she was stepping.
  • The store reacted reasonably; at the first opportunity, a worker noticed the spill and took action, but there simply wasn’t sufficient time.

However, the injured shopper also has good arguments:

  • The store was negligent because it did not have enough workers to manage foreseeable problems, such as spills in the aisle.
  • The worker who spotted the safety cone did not act reasonably; he should have checked for splatter, because that was a foreseeable hazard that might result from a shattered jar.

From these facts, it can be hard to conclude that either side has the better argument. That’s why, if you’ve been injured in a slip and fall accident, you may want to have an attorney with a proven track record in hard-to-prove cases. To talk to a skilled trial lawyer at Lanier Law Group, P.A., call 919.848.2000 to schedule a free consultation. 

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