Who is at Fault in a Slip and Fall Accident?

Slip and fall accidents are an unfortunate, common occurrence and can sometimes lead to serious injuries. While determining who is at fault in a slip and fall accident can depend on several different factors and circumstances, there are a few guideposts to help you determine who may be responsible for your damages.

In short, whoever behaved “unreasonably” will be at fault. The long explanation, however, is predictably more complicated. Recognizing that the world is an unsafe place, the law does not exclusively assign guilt to one person or company in every circumstance. Instead, it expects everyone to behave in a reasonable manner.

slip-and-fall-1So, what is “unreasonable” behavior under the law? The best way to explain this is with an example. Imagine that you are working in a restaurant and you see someone slip on a drink that has been spilled on the floor. Now imagine that the drink was spilled an hour ago and numerous restaurant workers passed by and did nothing. Also, the person that slipped? He is a nine-year-old child. It seems obvious that the restaurant behaved unreasonably when it did not fix the problem it clearly was aware existed.

On the other hand, imagine if instead of the staff finding out an hour beforehand, the drink was just spilled. Further, the drink was spilled by the intoxicated person who then immediately slipped on the drink because he was playing darts blindfolded. In this case, it would be unreasonable to be blindfolded and intoxicated in a restaurant, and the only person aware that the drink had been spilled was the intoxicated man, himself.  Just as in the previous example, the responsible party was the one that behaved unreasonably.

Of course, not all situations are that cut-and-dry. New York law allows for juries to find both parties “comparatively negligent.” This means that if both parties are at fault, the jury will allocate responsibility – generally, by assigning each party a “percentage” of the fault – and then the award will be reduced by that amount.

Because determining whether someone was behaving “reasonably” is the responsibility of the jury, there are no sure-fire examples of when someone will be absolutely at fault, in every circumstance. However, there are a few questions that can help a person better evaluate whether they may or may not have legal recourse for their damages:

  1. Who caused the slippery conditions?

Generally, if one of the parties caused the slippery conditions then he or she is more likely to be liable for the damages caused by their actions.

  1. Who knew about the slippery conditions and when did they find out?

If one or both parties knew about the slippery conditions, then that could be evidence that they should have taken steps to prevent the accident.  More important, though, is when the person found out about the slippery conditions. If a restaurant has been ignoring a spill for an hour, then that is likely unreasonable. However, if the slip occurred within seconds of spill then it may be harder to argue that the restaurant behaved unreasonably when responding to the spill.

  1. Who should have known about the slippery conditions?

Further, if the party did not know about the condition, but should have known, then that could also point towards liability. In this situation, the law will not reward willful ignorance.

Gallivan and Gallivan has litigated a numerous amount of slip and fall cases, if you have been hurt in this type of accident contact us for information on how we can help.

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