Do I Have a Valid Slip and Fall Claim?

By Anthony A. Ferrante, Esq.

If you were caused to fall and sustain an injury as a result of a dangerous condition, it may be worth investigating.

What is a slip and fall (or a trip and fall) accident?

There are countless ways that a person can slip, trip, fall and be injured, but these six (6) are the most common types that we see in our practice:

  1. Trip and fall on a raised, uneven or broken sidewalk
  2. Slip and fall because of water or some other liquid in a store
  3. Slip or trip and fall down the steps of an apartment building or office building
  4. Slip and fall because someone did not clear snow and ice after a snow storm
  5. Slip and fall due to a Landlord’s failure to fix a leaking ceiling
  6. Slip or trip and fall on a sidewalk or temporary walkway because of ongoing construction

You trip and fall as a result of a raised or uneven sidewalk.

You slip and fall because of water on the floor of a local grocery store or a “Big Box” store such as Target.

You trip and fall as a result of dangerous steps in a building, whether because of a broken or uneven step, a missing handrail or poor lighting.

You slip and fall on a sidewalk or someone’s property because of a failure to clear, salt and sand snow and ice.

You slip and fall due to a leaking ceiling or a ceiling collapse because the landlord refused to properly fix a leak above your apartment.

You trip and fall because of a dangerous temporary walkway due to ongoing construction.

What do I need to prove in a slip and fall accident case?

The most important question – and the first thing we ask any potential slip and fall client – is “What Caused You To Fall?” The answer to this question can shape the outlook of your potential case.

1. That there was a dangerous condition that caused the fall

In order to have a viable claim, the first thing you need to prove is that there was some kind of a dangerous or defective condition that caused you to fall. In other words, you need to show that there was a problem; a raised or broken sidewalk, a slippery floor, a missing handrail, a broken step, or some kind of other issue that led to your fall.

If there is a problem do yourself the favor of getting some photographs before it is either fixed or cleaned up. That’s the first step – identifying the dangerous condition that led to your accident.

Now, the question of whether this problem is “dangerous” or “defective” is really a legal question that depends on the circumstances of your incident, but identifying why you fell is the most important thing an attorney asks when evaluating a potential claim.

The first question asked of every potential slip and fall client in our office is: “What caused you to fall?” The answer to those five words will tell us whether or not we have a claim worth investigating.

If you say: “The water” or “the raised sidewalk” or “the ice” caused me to fall, then we know that we have something we can work with.

But if you do not know what you to fall, then New York law will not allow us to prove your case. This is why it is so important to have a clear picture of why you fell and how dangerous the problem was.

2. That we can identify the party responsible for the dangerous condition

So let’s say that we can identify the problem that caused you to fall – that is a good start, but not the end of the inquiry. In these cases the claim is that the defendant, or the person who you are suing, was negligent because they failed to live up to their duty to fix problematic or dangerous conditions on property that they own, operate, manage, work at, etc.

The word “duty” is a legal concept that essentially means “responsibility.” Sometimes that responsibility is inferred, sometimes it is created by one of our laws. So you are suing a person or entity because they didn’t live up to their end of the social bargain – they were irresponsible – and that lack of responsibility caused you to fall and become injured.

There can be more than one person or entity who have a legal responsibility to keep an area safe and that means that there can be more than one defendant in any potential slip and fall claim. Now, to be honest, identifying the negligent party is usually our job, not yours. But this section is included because of how important identifying the potential target is when evaluating a new claim.

This is because suing an individual is different from suing a private company, and both are different from suing a municipality or government entity such as the City of New York, the State of New York, the New York City Transit Authority, the New York City Housing Authority, the New York City Board/Department of Education, etc. While it is not necessarily more difficult to sue any type of entity over another, it is important to know what type of law applies to your particular fall.

For instance, when you trip and fall on a sidewalk in NYC there is a law (the Administrative Code of the City of NY §7-210) that places responsibility on the landlord next to the sidewalk (absent certain exceptions).

Or if you fall in a large residential building, the Multiple Dwelling Law places responsibility on the landlord to keep the building safe and free from dangerous conditions.

So, to recap, the first thing we need to show is that there was a problem or a dangerous condition. Next we have to identify our target, the person who you think should have made that safer. Then we move on to where most slip and fall cases are won and lost – the legal concept of “notice.”

3. That the responsible party either created the dangerous condition or had “notice” of the dangerous condition

Ok – so we know the cause of the fall and who we are going after. But can we prove the case? That depends. The final piece of the puzzle to establish your case requires proof that the defendant either (1) created the condition that caused your fall, or (2) that they were on “notice” of that condition.

A defendant can create a dangerous condition through what is known as “active” negligence. It is quite simple really: they created the dangerous problem that eventually caused your fall. A common example would be a freshly mopped floor, or a dangerous temporary walkway at a construction site. Another surprisingly common set of facts is where a supermarket has vegetable “sprayers” that automatically spray water every few minutes to keep their produce fresh, while inadvertently creating a slippery floor at the same time. If one of these types of fact patterns sounds familiar, you likely have something worth pursuing.

Now, if there is no “active” negligence, then the concept of “Notice” comes into play. This legal theory is where many slip and fall cases are won and lost. Notice says that the person responsible, your defendant, was aware that the problem existed but did nothing to fix it. Another formulation would be where they should have known about the problem if they kept up with their responsibility to keep things safe.

They were aware of the puddle of water. They were aware of the raised sidewalk. They were aware of the broken handrail. They were aware of the leaking ceiling, or whatever it was, and they just didn’t do anything to make it safer. So not only were they aware and they didn’t do anything, but they had a reasonable amount of time in which to make it safer but they decided not to do it.

So when we have a case where the responsible party says, “Hey, yeah, we know that that’s dangerous. Maybe somebody’ll fall but who cares? It hasn’t happened yet.” This statement is a perfect example of someone who was on “notice.” As you might imagine it is not always that easy to get this type of an admission, but again, that is your lawyer’s job.