If you trip and fall on another person’s property or on the property of a business, you may be entitled to compensation for your injuries in a negligence claim. A trip and fall claim is a type of premises liability claim. Essentially, the trip and fall claim is a person’s way to get compensation when they fall and suffer injuries as a result of another person’s negligent maintenance of a office, home, apartment complex, or business.
The Difference Between Trip and Fall Accidents and Slip and Fall Accidents
Trip and fall accidents and slip and fall accidents are often confused, but there is a difference between the two types of accidents. A trip and fall accident typically involves a person catching a toe or a foot on an object, which causes the person to fall. Thus, if a person is walking and catches their foot on an object like a cord or an uneven piece of concrete or some other object, the accident would likely fall under the category of a trip and fall accident.
A slip and fall, on the other hand, typically involves a person stepping on a liquid or other slippery material, and the slippery material causes the person to lose balance and fall. This type of accident involves the foot actually landing on a material, whereas a trip and fall accident involves a person catching their toe or foot on an object. Therefore, if the accident involves a slip on fluid or marbles or some other slippery material or substance, the accident would likely be classified as a slip and fall.
Examples of Trip and Fall Accidents
Although a trip and fall accident could occur in many ways, there are some types of trip and fall accidents that are much more common and serve as good examples. The common factor is a hazardous condition that a landowner or business owner should have fixed or posted an obvious warning nearby until the condition could be fixed. Here are some textbook examples of a trip and fall accidents.
Folded Rug or Mat
A person walks into a store and goes over to the drink fountain. Unbeknownst to the person, the matt by the drink fountain has a folded edge that creates a trip hazard. In fact, the mat has been folded for a while, and several people have stumbled over it that same day. As the person is walking up to the drink fountain, he trips over the mat and falls onto the ground, fracturing his face on the counter in front of the drink fountain on the way down.
Cords and Cables
A guest is walking through an office space. One of the employees at the office has pulled an extension cable across the hall because his power outlet was not working that day. The office manager saw the cable and wanted the employee to fix it, but the manager was too busy and forgot to ask the employee to move the cable out of the hall. A few hours later, the guest is walking and looking around to find which conference room she is looking for. When she’s walking by the cable, she doesn’t see it, and it catches her ankle and causes her to fall and sprain her wrist and ankle.
A visitor goes to a bar. The bar has a floor panel that has come loose, and it now sticks up about 1 inch above the rest of the floor panels. The patrons and employees of the bar know about this floor panel because many people have stumbled over it at least once. However, the visitor is new to the bar, the the uneven panel is not easy to see. As the visitor approaches the bar, he trips over the uneven floor panel and falls to the ground and breaks his arm.
Objects on the Ground
A restaurant owner decides to redo the brick walkway that leads to the outdoor seating. He works on it late into the night and does not quite finish the job. He leaves one brick on the walkway right outside the door, intending to set that brick in the ground the next day. A visitor to the restaurant shows up and is the first person to be seated outside. The visitor opens the door to the outside seating and doesn’t see the brick sitting on top of the walkway because it blends with the other bricks. As a result, the visitor trips over the brick and slams his head onto the hard ground, suffering a traumatic brain injury.
A property owner builds a new theater and is excited for opening day. However, before opening the theater, the owner did not check to see what the inside of the theater rooms looked like in the dark. As it turns out, the strips of lights above the first few stairs are not working. A moviegoer arrives late to the very first movie showing. Because the movie has already started, the lights are off, and the only way to see the stairs is the little lighted strips. As a result, the moviegoer cannot see the stairs with the malfunctioning light strips and trips over the first set of stairs, causing him to seriously injure his knee.
Holes and Potholes
A hotel is redoing their common area bathroom in the lobby. This involves removing the tile and some of the concrete underneath to access some of the pipes. However, when the workers leave for the day, they forgot to mark the hole in the concrete in front of the sinks. A visitor to the hotel goes to use the common area bathroom after checking in with the front desk and does not see the hole in the concrete. As he’s walking in, the automatic lights in the bathroom flip on just as his foot lands in the hole, and he trips as a result. His foot gets stuck in the hole, and his leg snaps above the ankle as he falls to the ground.
Common Trip and Fall Injuries
Trip and fall accidents can cause serious injuries, and sometimes these injuries are not evident until hours or days after the accident. When we trip and fall in public, all of us want to pop up and act like nobody saw it. The adrenaline kicks in, and we try to move on like nothing happened. Few people will trip and fall in public and then assess their injuries, like they should, before standing up and brushing it off. Other times, a trip and fall can cause such debilitating injuries that the injured person can’t get up right away or needs an ambulance.
When hard ground and gravity are involved, head injuries are possible. Sometimes, a trip and fall can cause a concussion or other traumatic brain injury. Thus, any bump to the head should be taken very seriously, especially if the trip and fall involved hard surfaces and height, like a flight of stairs. Just as with other physical injuries, symptoms from a traumatic brain injury after a trip and fall accident may not manifest for days after the accident. Therefore, if you think you have suffered serious injuries from a trip and fall, you should seek medical attention right away.
Here are some of the more common types of trip and fall injuries:
- Traumatic brain injuries;
- Torn ligaments;
- Broken or fractured bones;
- Sprained ankles, knees, or wrists; or
- Bruising or cuts.
Liability in a Trip and Fall Accident
In the simplest terms, a trip and fall claim is a claim for negligence. Therefore, a plaintiff must show that the property owner or business owner owed the plaintiff a duty of care; the property owner or business owner breached its duty; the owner’s breach was the cause of the plaintiff’s injuries; and the plaintiff suffered damages, like medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering.
Assessing a Trip and Fall Accident Claim
Every trip and fall accident is different. The key to a viable trip and fall claim is that the landowner or business owner was negligent in fixing a dangerous condition or warning about that dangerous condition. Here are some of the critical questions we might ask you to assess the validity of your trip and fall accident claim:
Did you trip and fall while you were working?
If you tripped and fell while you were visiting a business, a private residence, or an establishment, then you may be entitled to compensation through a negligence claim. However, if you trip and fall while you are working, you may be eligible for workers’ compensation benefits. Workers' compensation and negligence are two very different types of claims, and thus this distiction is very important.
Did you suffer serious injuries as a result of the trip and fall?
Actual injuries are a critical part of a viable trip and fall accident claim. If you have not suffered any damages, then you are missing a critical component of the claim. Damages are a critical element of any viable negligence claim.
Did you trip and fall at a business, on a commercial property, or on another person’s property?
To have a viable trip and fall claim, you must have fallen on someone else’s property. After all, you can’t sue yourself for tripping over a condition on your property. Additionally, where your trip and fall accident occurs will impact what kind of insurance coverage is available. For example, if your trip and fall accident occurred on a commercial or business property, the owner or the property or business will likely have a substantial insurance policy. If your trip and fall accident occurred on a private residence, the property owner may have some sort of insurance coverage.
Did you seek medical treatment for your injuries?
Medical bills are the foundation for your damages claim. Therefore, if you did not seek medical treatment for your injuries, that is a fact that the defense will likely use against you if you are seeking compensation in a trip and fall claim. Therefore, a viable trip and fall accident claim will typically involve medical damages.
Are you still seeking medical treatment for your trip and fall injuries?
If you sought medical treatment and then stopped, and then you bring a lawsuit months later, this is a fact the defense may use against you. The defense will likely allege that you would have been seeking treatment if you were actually injured. Thus, consistent treatment is a critical
Was the thing or condition you tripped over obvious?
If you trip and fall over an extremely obvious defect, it is going to be hard to claim that the property owner or business owner should be responsible for your damages. The defense will likely point to the obviousness of the defect and try to assign the blame to you. Florida is a pure comparative fault jurisdiction, which means that any verdict against the defendant would be reduced by your percentage of fault. For example, if the jury came back with a verdict of $10,000, but they found you were 90% at fault, you would only be entitled to 10% of the verdict, or $1,000. Thus, the more you were at fault, the less compensation you would be entitled to.
Did the property owner or manager know about the condition that caused you to trip but failed to fix it anyway?
The property owner has a duty to warn of known dangerous conditions or to fix those conditions. Sometimes, the condition has not existed long enough to hold the property owner liable. In other words, if a dangerous condition has existed on the property for days or weeks, the property owner is more culpable than if the condition had only existed minutes. The injured person has a stronger trip and fall accident claim if the dangerous condition existed for a significant amount of time and the property owner did not fix the condition or warn visitors about the condition.