Slip and Falls: Do I Have a Case?
At Harmonson Law Firm, we regularly receive telephone calls and client inquiries from people who have injured themselves by falling in a local business in El Paso or Las Cruces. Often times, these falls occur because there was something wet on the floor that caused the person to fall. Other times, there was a defect on the property that caused a trip and fall, like an exposed pipe coming from the ground. The law that determines if and when the owner or occupier of land is liable to another person that is injured on the property is called “premises liability”. We have had the opportunity and pleasure to represent many people injured in premises liability cases. To say that the law of premises liability is complex is an understatement. Luckily, we have studied these laws extensively, successfully represented numerous clients in this area and are ready, willing and able to take on these complex cases.
“Premises Liability”: The Legal Name for Your Slip and Fall Case
Premises liability or so called “slip and fall” cases are some of the most difficult cases to win because the law provides many protections to landowners which makes it difficult for a slip and fall victim to recover. Most people are shocked when we tell them that the mere fact that they fell on someone else’s property is not enough to win their case. Because the law is so difficult, it is important for you to hire a lawyer that knows the “ins and outs” of tough premises liability laws. Harmonson Law Firm has created this short guide to assist you in determining if you have a case.
Are You an Invitee on the Property?
The law that we discuss in this guide is applicable to people who are on the property at the invitation of the owner for the mutual benefit of both the owner and the injured person. Examples include store customers, bank customers, church attendees, hotel guests, etc. If this applies to you, your legal status is that of an “invitee.” The law provides the greatest legal protection to people who are “invitees” on property. The law provides less protections to others who are on the property only for their own benefit or who are trespassing on someone else’s property.* The vast majority of the calls we receive are from “invitees” on someone else’s property and this guide specifically deals with these types of cases. If you were not an invitee, you still may pursue a claim but it may be harder to win your case. An experienced premise liability attorney will know the difference and can help you determine if there is a case to be made.
*In New Mexico, there is less emphasis placed on your status as an invitee and the law protects equally all people on someone else’s property (except for trespassers).
Duties Owed to an Invitee?
The owner of property in Texas has the duty to you the invitee on the property to reduce or eliminate unreasonable risks of harm on the property. Encompassed in that duty is the duty to reasonably protect you the invitee from known dangerous conditions on the property and from dangerous conditions that should have been discovered with the exercise of reasonable care. In New Mexico, the law provides that the landowner has a duty of reasonable care to invitees and other people who are legally on the property. Are you confused yet?? If that sounds like a lot of legal mumbo-jumbo, then you are not alone. The complex legal standard is why so many courts have a hard time determining if the landowner should be held accountable for slip and falls. Plus, the Texas Supreme Court has time and again sided with businesses over injured victims in their court rulings, making these cases especially difficult in Texas. However, the following list is used by us to determine if there is a worthy premises liability case:
1. Was the Condition on the Property Dangerous?
Whether there was a dangerous condition on the property is the first thing we look for. For instance, a puddle on a wet tile floor is a dangerous condition. We recently helped a man who fell when he slipped on a wet ramp that had been painted with slick enamel paint instead of a textured anti-slip paint. That was a dangerous condition. Some conditions on property just aren’t dangerous enough to pose a significant risk of harm. For instance, if you fall walking down stairs that are otherwise free from any defect, you will have a hard time with your case. Or if you do not know what caused your fall, then chances are that we will not be able to get you money for your injuries.
2. The Defendant Knew of the Dangerous Condition or Should Have Known of the Dangerous Condition.
This is usually the make or break issue in a slip and fall case. You and your lawyer must prove that the owner knew of the dangerous condition or reasonably should have known of the dangerous condition. Some of the ways we can establish proof of actual knowledge include:
- Proof that the owner created the dangerous condition on the property. For example, an employee mopping a floor and forgetting to put up a “caution” sign.
- Admissions by the management or an employee that they knew of the dangerous condition. For example, a statement by an overworked employee that he or she knew that someone had spilled their drink on the ground, but has been too busy to clean the mess up.
Unfortunately, it is rare to be able to prove actual knowledge on the part of the landowner. However, you can still prove that with a reasonable inspection, the defendant should have discovered the dangerous condition. Proof we look for as slip and fall lawyers include (i) evidence of how long the dangerous condition had been in existence at the time of the fall; (ii) the proximity the dangerous condition to employees; and (iii) the conspicuousness of the dangerous condition, or whether it was easily discoverable with reasonable inspection.
How Badly Are You Injured?
The final thing we look for in a slip and fall case is the severity of the injury. In our estimation, we have to file a lawsuit on 90% of our slip and fall cases because of the tough laws in this area. Because of the time and expense involved in a lawsuit, we closely examine the injuries involved to make sure there is a valid justification for moving forward. We take cases where there are broken bones, or significant spinal injuries or other significant injuries. If you have very minor injuries, often times it is too costly to pursue a case to make it worth your while.
If you have been injured in a slip and fall, trip and fall or because of a dangerous condition on someone else’s property, Harmonson Law Firm will be more than happy to give you a free initial consultation.