Whose Fault Is My Fall?

All human beings fall from time to time. We begin by falling as we learn to walk. Once we become steady on our feet, there are a number of reasons for us to lose our balance and end up on the ground. Most of the time, falls, particularly for the young and healthy, do not result in serious injury – though they may cause a scrape or bruise, torn clothing, or embarrassment. When falls do result in serious physical harm, however, it is important to determine whether or not someone else’s negligence was the cause. If you are the injured party in a slip and fall accident, you may be legally entitled to substantial compensation for medical costs, pain and suffering, lost income, or even permanent disability. For this reason, it is essential that you contact a competent personal injury attorney who has comprehensive knowledge of premises liability law. Determining fault in a slip and fall accident is often complex, so it is important to have a professional helping you navigate the legal system and stave off insurance adjusters who are eager to settle for less than the damages you deserve.

When Property Owners Are Liable

While we all “trip over our own feet” from time to time, there is often an external cause for slip and falls, such as:

  • Torn carpeting or loose scatter rugs
  • Broken or unmarked steps
  • Floors that are slippery due to ice, snow, mud, spills or leaks
  • Unseen objects or holes 
  • Uneven or broken floor tiles
  • Wobbly banisters
  • Poor lighting

Even if such dangers exist, it doesn’t automatically mean that the property owner is to blame. The law recognizes that in order to be responsible for someone else’s fall a property owner must be aware, or should reasonably have been aware, of the problem and either repaired it, cleaned it, or marked it with cones, tape, or signage. If you have fallen because of a danger that was evident and untended by the person charged with maintaining the premises, you may be entitled to significant damages.

How the Law Perceives Fault

There are three ways in which the law may recognize the property owner’s negligence:

  • If he/she caused the spill, the tear, the obstruction
  • If she/he knew about the danger but took no action (or insufficient action)
  • If he/she should “reasonably” have known about the dangerous surface or step but was unaware because of negligent or non-existent maintenance

There is frequently a judgment call involved in such cases, so if you have been seriously injured in a fall you need a premises liability attorney experienced in negotiations and litigation to confront insurance representatives and/or to fight for your interests in a court of law. Only a well-schooled legal professional is capable of persuading judges, juries, or insurance companies watching their bottom lines that you deserve full compensation.

When You Are Partly at Fault for Your Injuries

Let’s face it, in many cases, your own inattention or awkwardness may have contributed to your fall. It is also possible that a health condition may have made you more vulnerable to imbalance or severity of injury. Depending on your age and medical or other factors, one of the following may have contributed to the accident in which you were injured, making it partly your fault:

  • Intoxication or being high on drugs
  • Fooling around and being careless
  • Dizziness due to inner ear problems or low blood pressure
  • Poor vision
  • Poor judgment due to youth, mental illness, or dementia

You should remember, though, that even if you were more prone to sustaining a fracture because you have osteoporosis or to hemorrhaging because you take blood thinners — that doesn’t mean that the property owner did not cause you to fall. Even if your inebriation contributed to your fall, if the floor was slippery from a spill, the property owner shares fault for your injuries.

What Pure Comparative Negligence Means

Negligence laws vary from state to state. The State of California follows the principle of pure comparative negligence. This means that even if a court finds the property owner minimally responsible for your accident, she/he owes you a proportionate percentage of damages. Unlike states in which modified comparative negligence rules apply, in California, you are entitled to some compensation even if you are deemed to be more than 50 percent to blame for your own injuries.
Determining fault in a slip and fall accident is often a challenge. Because your economic, as well as physical and emotional, well-being may depend on this determination, it is crucial that you contact a slip and fall accident attorney to handle your case.


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