Defenses in Slip and Fall Lawsuits

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 15, 2021

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If you have filed a slip and fall accident lawsuit to recover money damages, you can expect that the property owner will offer a defense. Typically, a property owner will either try to prove that he was not responsible for the conditions that caused the fall or prove that your actions caused the accident. Often, the defenses to slip and fall lawsuits can be well argued and difficult hurdles to overcome, so working with an experienced attorney can be critical to collecting the money you deserve.

Property Owner Not Responsible for Slip and Fall Conditions

The first defense a property owner will offer is that they are not responsible for the conditions that caused the slip and fall accident. As noted in articles about property owner responsibility, a slip and fall defendant is liable if:

  1. They knew about the dangerous condition on their property
  2. They should have known about the dangerous condition on their property
  3. They are responsible for the condition – either by causing it OR by not remedying it in sufficient time
  4. They had reasonable time to repair the condition or set up barriers preventing access to it
Defenses to slip and fall accidents will argue that the property owner did not know about the condition, and should not be expected to know about it. For example, if you slip and fall in a big box store such as Target after stepping a puddle of spilled juice that another customer caused, then the owner of the store will argue that it was not reasonable to expect them to be aware of a puddle an employee did not create. While store owners are responsible for keeping the floor safe, puddles or slippery patches can easily go unnoticed for a short period of time even when employees are diligent.  

Proving that an owner knew, or should have known, about the condition that caused your slip and fall can be difficult, particularly if the owner or one of his employees did not cause the condition directly. An experienced slip and fall attorney will be able to evalate your case and gather evidence to give you the best chance of collecting the money you are owed.

Assumption of Risk and Slip and Falls

Property owners are responsible for injuries that occur as a result of a dangerous or hazardous condition on their property which the owner knew about, or should have known about, however, victims of slip and fall accidents can share liability in some cases. If you have suffered a slip and fall injury, you may not be able to collect compensation from the property owner if the condition that caused your fall was one that you should have recognized and avoided. Under the legal doctrine of assumption of risk, a property owner can argue:

  1. The risk of walking in the area was so obvious that the injured party knew it existed
  2. The injured party voluntarily took on the risk regardless of the danger of falling

An example of assumption of risk would play out as follows:  You are walking through a parking lot on a cold day and see a large patch of ice in front of you. Not wanting to walk around it, you decide to try to walk across the ice, but you slip and fall and injure yourself. In this case, the property owner could very easily claim that you knew the risk of walking on ice (falling), but voluntarily took it on because you didn’t want to walk around.

When analyzing an assumption of risk defense, the key question becomes whether or not the risk of the area was obvious. Black ice, for example, is a hotly contested issue because it is difficult to see, however, everyone who has walked or driven through an asphalt parking lot knows, or should know, that black ice is a risk on a cold winter day. Each slip and fall accident case is different, and every state may have law that guides a court to determine whether or not difficult to see, but potentially known, dangers such as black ice are obvious enough to offer an assumption or risk defense. Assumption of risk is a difficult hurdle for slip and fall plaintiffs to overcome, so consult with an attorney before responding to a property owner’s claim that your negligence contributed to or caused the accident.

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