Slip and fall – or trip and fall – cases are among the most common types of premises liability claims in South Carolina. In 2020, nearly 10 million people across the United States visited hospital emergency departments due to falls. People injured in falls made up more than 26% of all injury-related emergency room visits.
Many falls cause no more harm than a scraped knee or a momentary shortness of breath. But, a slip and fall, trip and fall, or fall from a higher level can cause serious injury. Tens of thousands of Americans die from falls each year, and others suffer significant injuries. The risk is greatest for older Americans. Among those aged 65 and older, falls are the most common cause of accidental injury and death.
While there are many possible causes of a slip and fall or trip and fall injury, the property owner or operator is often legally responsible for the injury. Of course, simply having been injured on someone else’s property isn’t sufficient to make them liable for your damages. But, property owners and those in possession and control of property have a legal obligation to others on the property.
Under South Carolina premises liability law, the duty of care owed by a landowner or operator is different depending on the circumstances surrounding the injured person’s presence on the property. The highest duty of care is owed to business invitees. One common example is a shopper in a retail store. The business owner has invited the public–or certain members of the public–onto the property for the company’s benefit.
In this situation, the property owner has a duty to exercise reasonable care to keep the premises safe for the invitees. That means not just refraining from creating dangers, but also actively maintaining the premises in safe condition.
Note, though, that the property owner is generally not responsible for the actions of a third party. This can sometimes make the issue of liability complicated. Imagine, for example, that a shopper dropped a cup of fruit punch in the doorway of a retail store and walked away. If another shopper entered the store 45 seconds after the spill and slipped on the liquid, the property owner likely wouldn’t be held responsible. In most situations, it would not be reasonable to expert the store owner to identify and correct the hazard in less than one minute.
On the other hand, if the spill had been in the doorway for 45 minutes and three customers had separately notified employees before another shopper slipped on the spill, the store would likely be liable. By that point, the store (through its employees) was aware of the dangerous condition and should have taken action to correct it.
Of course, there are a wide range of scenarios in between these two. Is 10 minutes too long for the spill to have gone unattended? How quickly would store employees be expected to identify the risk? Would putting up wet floor signs but not cleaning up the mess suffice? Ultimately, it will be up to a jury to decide whether the property owner exercised reasonable care for the safety of those visiting the premises.
If the injured person is a licensee–someone who is on the property with permission, but not for the property owner’s benefit–the owner has an obligation to exercise reasonable care not to harm the visitor and to make the visitor aware of known, non-obvious hazards. One common example of a licensee is a social guest in the property owner’s home.
Imagine that a homeowner invites a friend over for dinner. The friend uses a small stairway on the side of the house rather than entering from the front. One of the wooden steps leading up to the side porch is broken, and when the guest steps on it she falls and breaks her arm. The homeowner, who always enters and exits the house through her garage and typically receives visitors and deliveries at the front door, was unaware of the broken step. Because the injured person is a licensee and the homeowner didn’t know about the broken step, the property owner isn’t responsible unless the injured person can establish that she reasonably should have known of the defect. On the other hand, if the homeowner knew about the broken step and didn’t warn her dinner guest about it, she likely would be legally responsible for the injury.
In the real world, the situation may not be as clear-cut. For example, the homeowner may say that she didn’t know the step was broken. But, that may or may not be true. In that situation, the visitor’s trip and fall attorney would have to investigate to determine whether there was evidence that the host had known about the stair in advance. That evidence might take the form of a conversation with a neighbor prior to the injury, a social media post, an inquiry about having the step repaired, or a warning to a previous guest. If you’re unsure about whether or not a property owner may be liable, the best source of information is an experienced Charleston premises liability lawyer.
In South Carolina, a property owner’s responsibility to trespassers is quite limited. The landowner must refrain from causing willful or wanton injury, but this doesn’t apply to most situations that would arise naturally. A landowner might be liable to a trespasser for injuries if, for example, the property owner suspected that someone was trespassing on the land and so dug holes and concealed them with brush to injure the trespasser. However, the standards are somewhat stricter if the trespasser is a child or an adult with intellectual disabilities and certain other criteria are met.
In most circumstances, an employee who is injured on the job will be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. That includes employees who fall in the workplace, or elsewhere while on the job. Workers’ compensation is usually an exclusive remedy as to the employer, meaning that an employee usually can’t sue the employer for their injuries–not even if the employer’s negligence caused the fall.
However, in some circumstances there may be a third party who is responsible or partly responsible for the injury. For example, if a supplier making a delivery to a business spills oil on the warehouse floor and leaves it there without notifying anyone, a worker who slips and falls on the oil patch may have a personal injury claim against the supplier in addition to their workers’ compensation claim. If you’re injured at work, it is usually best to work with an attorney who is experienced with both workers’ compensation claims and personal injury claims, to ensure that you don’t miss out on compensation.
The damages available in a slip and fall case will depend on a variety of factors, including the nature of the injuries, the seriousness of the injuries, the medical expenses already incurred, projected future medical expenses, lost income, and projected diminishment of earning capacity. You may also be entitled to damages for intangible losses, also called “non-economic damages.” This type of damages compensates the injury victim for pain, loss of quality of life, and other losses that can’t be measured in dollars.
The best source of information about who may be liable for your slip and fall or trip and fall injury and what types of damages may be available is an experienced Charleston slip and fall attorney.
Attorney Frank Hartman has devoted his career to helping people in and around Charleston secure fair compensation for their injuries. Frank takes the time to know each client well enough to determine the best approach for their particular situation. To learn more about how The Hartman Law Firm can help you after a fall-related injury, call 843-300-7600 right now.