Slip and fall injuries may sound trivial, or even comical, bringing to mind elaborate supermarket spills or wipe-outs on icy walks in comic films. In fiction, the person who takes the fall generally gets up, a little shamefaced, and goes on with his life. In the real world, it isn’t always so easy.
According to the New York State Department of Health, fall-related injuries are the leading cause of accidental death among adults aged 45 and older in the state. Injuries suffered in falls also trigger more hospitalizations among children aged 0-14 and adults aged 25 and older than any other type of injury. Many of these injuries are serious.
Fractures are one of the most common types of fall-related injury, but injuries can be much more serious and enduring. The Mayo Clinic lists falls as one of the leading causes of traumatic brain injury, which can have a lifelong impact on both quality of life and ability to earn a living. Falls also cause more than 25% of spinal cord injuries, and are the leading cause of spinal cord injuries among those aged 65 and older.
Slip and fall injuries typically fall under the umbrella of premises liability. The owner, occupier or other party with control over premises generally has a duty to maintain those premises in a reasonably prudent manner. While some states have imposed different standards of care with regard to licensees, invitees and trespassers, New York law does not make that distinction, instead focusing on the reasonableness of the owner/occupier’s actions in their particular context.
The owner/occupier may be liable for injuries caused by:
In this era of inattention, it may not be immediately clear who is to blame for a premises liability injury. For example, what if a customer entering a small retail store trips over a loose board in the doorway, and the defect was known to the store owner, but the customer was typing a text message as she entered the store and might otherwise have noticed the board and avoided the fall? What if the teenager who slips in that laundry detergent left on the grocery store floor happened to be fully engaged in stalking a rare Pokémon when she stepped into the soap?
New York is among the minority of states that applies a pure comparative fault analysis in negligence cases. In the context of the type of slip and fall cases described above, that means that if both the plaintiff and the defendant are at fault, the judge or jury must determine the appropriate percentage of fault attributable to each, then apportion liability accordingly.
Thus, if our Pokémon-playing teenager was deemed to have been 40% at fault, while the store was determined to be 60% at fault for not identifying and remedying the hazard, the store would be responsible for 60% of her damages and she would be expected to absorb 40% of the cost herself. The same analysis would apply no matter how the blame was apportioned: if the store was found to be only 10% responsible, then the teen would be entitled to collect 10% of her damages.
This relatively unusual system employed in New York opens the door for those injured in part by someone else’s negligence to receive a fair recovery, even when their own actions were less than perfect. If you’ve been injured on someone else’s property but were unsure whether you could recover because you fear that you may have been partially responsible, it’s time to talk with an experienced premises accidents lawyer and learn more about your rights.