You may have heard of personal injury cases in which a person falls and is injured, and then sues the property owner. In TV shows and other entertainment, these cases are often portrayed in a bad light, as though the injured people are just trying to get money. You might think differently about them if you look at some statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:
- Slip-and-fall accidents lead to more than 1 million visits to hospital emergency rooms every year in the United States.
- About 5% of people who seek medical attention because of a slip-and-fall are diagnosed with fractured bones.
- Hip fractures are among the most serious injuries that commonly result from falls, particularly for older Americans.
- Slip-and-fall accidents are the single largest reason for workers’ compensation claims and the most common type of accident to lead to employees missing days of work.
These facts can serve as a reminder that many slip-and-fall accidents lead to serious injuries that require medical care. And we all know that medical care is expensive. How are the injured supposed to pay for their care?
Under Texas law, property owners have certain duties to others to address safety hazards and minimize the risk of accidents that might befall the people who visit their property. When they breach this duty, and a visitor is injured as a result, an owner can be held liable for the injured party’s damages, including their medical expenses. This concept is known as premises liability.
Here, it’s important to note that there are some important limitations in premises liability. Landowners can’t be held liable for every injury that happens on their property, and premises liability doesn’t necessarily let visitors off the hook for being careful about their own safety.
What’s more, a property owner has a greater duty to some types of visitors than to others. Generally, a property owner has a greater degree of duty to invited guests and customers, and a lesser degree of duty to someone who is on the property for their own purposes, such as a repair person. A property owner owes very little duty to a trespasser.
A fairly common scenario in premises liability law involves a retail store and a customer who slips on spilled liquid, falls to the floor and is injured. A store owner has a duty to their customers to take reasonable steps to avoid accidents such as this, but they cannot be expected to stop every such accident from happening.
In this type of case, an important point might be how long the spill was on the floor before the customer slipped on it. A reasonable store owner would do something about the safety hazard as soon as they knew about it, put up a warning sign and begin mopping.
Likewise, a reasonable store owner would periodically inspect the premises for safety hazards. If there is evidence that the spill was on the ground for hours before the customer slipped, this would suggest that the owner breached their duty and should be held liable for the injured customer’s damages.
However, if there is evidence that the spill happened mere seconds before the accident, this suggests that even a very careful store owner would not have had time to prevent the customer’s fall.
Premises liability law
This area of the law can be quite complicated. The facts behind each case are different, and it isn’t always easy to predict how the law will apply to a unique set of circumstances. Those who have been injured in an accident on another person’s property may want to discuss their case with an experienced professional.