Slip and Fall Attorneys Serving Millersville, Maryland
“Slip and fall” is a term for personal injury cases which arise when a person slips and falls as a result of a dangerous or hazardous condition on someone else’s property. Inside a building, dangerous conditions such as torn carpeting, abrupt changes in flooring, poor lighting, narrow stairs, or a wet floor can cause you to slip and hurt yourself. Outside a building, you may slip and fall because of rain, ice, snow, or a hidden hazard, such as a gap or hard-to-see pothole in the ground. Slip and fall accidents can occur on commercial, residential, or public property. Regardless of where they happen, all property or building owners have a certain level of responsibility (duty of care) to make sure an environment is safe.
Slip and fall accidents are the most common type of “premises liability” cases, which center on the question of a property owner’s duty to care for the property. Injury by fire or other accidents resulting from defects in the conditions of buildings also falls under this category.
Slip and fall cases are governed under negligence law. With regard to premises liability, a possessor of property owes a certain duty to a person who comes in contact with the property. The extent of this duty depends upon the person’s status while on the property. Historically, in Maryland, four classifications are recognized: invitee, licensee by invitation, bare licensee, and trespasser.
An invitee is a person on the property for a purpose related to the possessor’s business. The possessor owes an invitee a duty of ordinary care to keep the possessor’s property safe. A licensee by invitation is a social guest to whom the possessor owes a duty to exercise reasonable care to warn the guest of dangerous conditions that are known to the possessor but not easily discoverable. A bare licensee is a person on the property with permission, but for his or her own purposes; the possessor owes no duty except to refrain from willfully or wantonly injuring the licensee and from creating new and undisclosed sources of danger without warning the licensee. Finally, a trespasser is one who intentionally and without consent or privilege enters another’s property. As for a trespasser, even in one of the tender years, no duty is owed except that the possessor may not willfully or wantonly injure or entrap the trespasser. Baltimore Gas & Elec. Co. v. Flippo, 348 Md. 680 (1998).
To win a premises liability claim, an injured victim has to prove either that the defendant created the hazard that led to the accident or that the defendant knew or should have known about the danger and had it removed or repaired. This can often be difficult to prove, since proving when a given hazard first appeared can be challenging.
Example: If you slip and fall on a banana in a grocery store, absent some evidence of when the banana first fell onto the floor, it may be difficult to prove that the store “knew or should have known” about the dangerous condition. If the banana fell onto the floor ten seconds before you arrived, then the store most likely could not have known about it. Since plaintiffs have the burden of proof, proving when the hazard first appeared and that the store should have known about the hazard presents problems in certain cases.
Structural damages to a building, often due to age or wear and tear, can be a significant cause of injury. Uneven steps, parking lot potholes, cracked sidewalks, broken tiles, or torn carpeting can create dangerous situations for visitors to a building. As noted earlier, to prove negligence, we will have to prove that the property owner knew or should have known about the problem and failed to repair it.
Occasionally, negligence can be proven by violation of a statute. Building owners must ensure that the building’s structure is in compliance with applicable building codes. For example, handrails and other similar structures typically must be installed at a certain general height. If you fall on a stairway that lacked appropriate handrails, and the lack thereof caused your injuries, you may have a valid claim against the building owner for violating building codes. Council of Co-Owners Atlantis Condominium, Inc. v. Whiting-Turner Co., 308 Md. 18 (1986).
Weather-related slip and fall accidents are difficult cases for injured plaintiffs. Landowners are generally expected to take reasonable steps to reduce hazards created by adverse weather. This can include but is not limited to, shoveling snow, salting or sanding icy and slippery spots, and installing anti-slip devices on outdoor steps. As with other cases, if the landowner has no reasonable opportunity to correct the problem, as where a flash flood has created a hazard, the landowner will not be held liable for injuries caused by the hazard.
In slip and fall cases, as with all other negligence claims, contributory negligence applies. A plaintiff who fails to observe ordinary care for his own safety is contributorily negligent and is barred from all recovery, regardless of the defendant’s primary negligence. Harrison v. Montgomery County Bd. of Education, 295 Md. 442 (1983). As a guest on someone else’s property, you are expected to exercise reasonable judgment and caution.
Example: You fall while walking down the stairs at a hotel, sustaining serious injuries. A jury finds that the property owner had been warned about the trouble spot weeks ago and failed to correct it, however, the jury also finds that you were reading the newspaper while you walked down the stairs and your inattention contributed to causing the accident. If the jury finds you 10 percent at fault and the defendant 90 percent at fault, you will be barred from recovery because you were contributorily negligent.
What To Do If You Slip and Fall
Inspect the area where you fell, and try to determine what caused you to fall.
Make sure to write down the names, addresses, and phone numbers of anyone in the vicinity where the incident occurred – both those who saw you fall and others who were there after the incident — since you will likely need them as witnesses on your behalf. Even if someone did not see you fall, he or she could, if necessary, describe your pain and the conditions of the floor, lighting, or another hazard immediately after you fell.
If the incident occurred in a store or place of business, speak with the manager or supervisor on duty, and have them make a record of the incident, being sure to get a copy of anything prepared. If anyone (especially an employee, supervisor or manager) makes a comment suggesting that this has occurred before, or that they were aware of the condition before your fall, obtain this person’s name and job title. Make sure to get the name, address and phone number of anyone else who heard him or her make the statement.
Have someone take photographs of the area as soon as possible, so a record is made. Dangerous conditions have a way of changing if the property owner thinks that you might file a claim for injuries.
If you slip on any substance on the floor, obtain a sample of the substance if possible.
After receiving appropriate initial medical treatment, contact an attorney with experience in handling claims for personal injury resulting from slip and fall accidents.
For more information on Slip and Fall In Maryland, a free initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking and talk to Arnold F. Phillips by calling today. We serve the areas of Millersville, Cumberland, McHenry, Garrett County, and Allegany County, Maryland.