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Please, Watch Your Step

Spend a day fielding new callers in any personal injury law firm and you’ll quickly realize that there are many members of the general public that have yet to master the fine art of walking. They seem to have the most difficulty in grocery stores and retail giants like Wal-Mart.

Premise liability cases, the most common of which are the “slip and falls,” can present unique challenges and are often difficult to prosecute. Generally, owners of property are required to exercise reasonable care toward all lawful visitors. This includes, but is not necessarily limited to, keeping the property reasonably safe for the benefit of the visitor. To do this, the property owner should warn the visitor of non-obvious and dangerous conditions known to the landowner, and to make reasonable inspections to discover dangerous conditions and to thereafter make them safe. The duty to make safe dangerous conditions on the property is usually satisfied if a reasonable warning has been given.

This does not mean, however, that negligence on the part of the landowner is automatic if you happen to fall down on their property because of some defect or unsafe condition and no warning has been given. There is no duty to warn if the dangerous condition is so obvious that the visitor should reasonably have been aware of it (i.e., a gaping pothole in the parking lot, red Kool-Aid spilled all over the white aisle floor). All of us have a responsibility to see what ought to be seen. In essence, to watch where we’re going. For example, if you’re walking around in the garden department of a store and you see a gigantic puddle of water in the floor, the store is more than likely not liable if you happen to voluntarily walk through the puddle and slip in the water.

Contributory negligence is almost always an issue in the standard slip and fall case. The nagging question in the back of jurors’ minds is often how did the person not see that or where were they looking? A claimant seeking to recover in the standard premise liability case will often have to have a legitimate and logical reason for failing to see the condition that caused them to fall and be injured. If inattentiveness, a lack of due care, or running or fooling around are involved then the chances of recovery are likely very small.

What is reasonable in the premise liability case ultimately rests with the jury, as is the case with all negligence cases. For example, it is likely not going to be considered reasonable to expect the landowner to clean up all spills in the store immediately upon occurrence. It may, however, be reasonable to expect the landowner to have found and cleaned the spill after being on the floor for an extended period or time, or at the very least to place warning signs for the protection of visitors.

Slip and falls only comprise a portion of the wide variety of cases that fall into the Premise Liability category. Regardless of their type, premise liability cases can require quite a bit of investigation to successfully prosecute, and obtaining the evidence needed can sometimes be tricky. If you have had an incident on someone’s property, then consider consulting with an experienced attorney to ensure that your rights are properly protected.

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