Who Is Responsible for a Slip and Fall that Was Caused by a Hidden Hazard?
Businesses in particular, and property owners generally, owe all visitors a duty of care to keep their premises free from hazards that could cause an injury. If this duty is breached, and a visitor is injured, the owner may be liable under premises liability law to pay compensation. The extent of the duty depends upon whether a person is a licensee, visiting someone’s home, or a business invitee frequenting an entity to conduct a transaction. Store customers are examples of business invitees, and these individuals are owed the highest duty of care by the owner to protect them from injury. Grocery and department stores are examples of establishments that people visit on a regular basis, and are also the site of many slip-and-fall injuries due to negligent inspection and repair. Hidden dangers are especially concerning, since customers have no way to identify and avoid them. Wal-Mart was recently ordered to pay a shopper almost $1 million for significant knee and back injuries he suffered after slipping on a rug that concealed water from a leaking freezer. Given the unfortunate prevalence of these injuries, Florida has a law that directly speaks to the liability a business has for substances left on the floor that cause injury. A discussion of specific duties stores owe to customers, including their duty to warn of potential danger, will follow below.
Duties Owed to Customers
Businesses open to customers owe them a duty to warn of hidden perils the owner knew or should have known existed, if the customer did not know of, nor could discover through reasonable observation and attention. Further, they must also inspect and repair hazards in a timely manner, so the premises are in a reasonably safe condition at all times. However, this duty is generally excused for warnings about dangers customers knew existed, or were open and obvious, and thus, expected to be seen. However, an owner may still have liability in these situations if he/she knew or should have foreseen an unreasonable risk from a dangerous condition, and failed to fix the problem or issue a warning.
Most slips-and-falls are from liquid substances on a floor. In order to recover compensation for a slip-and-fall caused in this manner, the plaintiff must prove the business had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazard, and should have taken steps to repair. Constructive knowledge can be established by:
- the hazard was present for a period of time sufficient for a business to discover it through ordinary inspection; or
- the condition occurred regularly, and was foreseeable as a result.
Duty to Warn
A duty to warn of potential injury is required when a business is aware of a dangerous condition (something on the property that could cause an injury), and the warning must both notify a customer about a problem and that the problem presents a danger, i.e., wet floor sign or hazard tape. As noted above, this duty extends to hidden dangers a customer, despite the use of reasonable and prudent care, would not discover because it was not discernible by sight, scent or sound. However, a business may not be liable for an injury if a customer was provided with adequate warning, the customer knew about the danger, or the condition was not considered dangerous. Slip-and-fall cases can be complex, and a personal injury attorney is the best source to assess the potential liability of a business for negligent harm.
Slips-and-falls at grocery store or shopping mall are usually preventable, but leave victims with significant, and potentially permanent, injuries. The attorneys at the Miami law firm of Pita Weber & Del Prado know what it takes to build a winning case, and are available to discuss the circumstances of your injury. Contact us today for a free consultation.