Slips and falls are among the most common accidents, though, in many cases, they’re avoidable with a little care. While it might seem to be the fault of the victims of these falls for not watching where they’re going, businesses and property owners are at fault for not providing safe conditions. What happens when a business or property owner is warned about a hazardous condition and doesn’t act to secure the area?
When Businesses Are Negligent
When it comes to establishing the fault of a business owner in causing the slip and fall of a patron, it’s important to determine if the business owner was, in fact, negligent. When it comes to civil law, negligence requires that a defendant, such as a business owner, had a duty of care to the plaintiff and that the duty was breached, either willfully or through carelessness. It must also be shown that the negligence played a causal factor in the accident and that the accident was a predictable outcome of that proximate cause. Finally, the plaintiff must show that damages resulted from the accident, a slip and fall in this case.
Suppose there’s a spill on the floor at a business and a conscientious customer notifies the management. Further suppose the business managers acknowledge that spill and don’t act to either clean it up or place barriers and warnings around the location of the spill. Later, a customer steps in the spill and falls, causing injuries to that individual. In that situation, is the business owner liable?
To determine the liability of this business owner, it’s important to examine the factors that contribute to negligence. The first aspect in proving negligence is establishing that the business owner had a duty of care to his customers. While business owners aren’t responsible for the actions of their customers, they do have a responsibility to ensure their establishments are reasonably free from danger. This includes ensuring that the place of business is free from conditions that could cause slip and fall accidents, when weighed against the care the patron should have taken in avoiding such an accident.
Looking at the burden of proving this aspect of negligence, courts have established certain guidelines. For instance, if the business owner or his employees should have known about the dangerous condition, because other reasonable persons would have identified the danger, the business has breached a duty of care.
Similarly, if it can be proven that the business owner, or his subordinates were aware of the dangerous condition and did not act to remedy the situation, duty of care has been violated. In the above example, the business manager was notified about the spill and declined to have the spill cleaned or blockaded.
Duty of care is also said to have been breached, where the owner or his employees caused the spill, or other hazardous situation.
What is a “Reasonable” Person?
Much in determining the negligence of a business, or any defendant in a civil lawsuit, hinges on what a “reasonable” person would do or assume. This leaves us with the question of what determines reasonable in that term. Essentially, the reasonable person is the ideal of a how a typical person would react and/or think in the given situation. This is a matter of opinion, left up to a judge or a jury to assess within the circumstances of the case. The ability or inability of the defendant to act isn’t the issue, because it’s assumed he or she would do what any other typical person would do in that situation.
In our example of the spilled substance, is it safe to assume a typical person would have cleaned up the spill, once it was reported? It seems very likely that most business employees would have taken a few minutes to mop up a spill, or cordon off the area, to ensure patron safety. By not acting to protect patrons from the spilled substance, the business has maintained the proximate cause of the fall, which resulted in the second patron’s fall and subsequent damages. After examining civil law and the specifics of this hypothetical situation, it is safe to say the business was liable for the slip and fall incident.