Slip and Fall Accidents & Injuries
Slip-and-fall accidents are closely related to tripping accidents. A slip-and-fall usually occurs because the accident victim’s foot slides on a slippery surface, causing a loss of balance. A tripping accident occurs when someone trips over an obstacle, like a power cord that has been stretched across a floor. Falling from a height is another related accident.
Distinctions between the three kinds of “falling accidents” are not always clear. A fall from a height can be caused by slipping on a loose roof tile. Slipping on ice can cause an off-balance accident victim to trip over a curb. While this page focuses on slip-and-fall accidents, the same general information applies to nearly all falls that are caused by the negligent acts of another person or business.
Facts about Slip-and-Fall Accidents
During the years 2010-2011, almost 10 million people visited an emergency room after being injured in a fall. In 2013, more than 30,000 people died from injuries sustained in accidental falls. Approximately 12% of injuries sustained in falls result from slip-and-fall accidents.
Anyone can become the victim of a slip-and-fall that is caused by another person’s carelessness. Some people, however, are more vulnerable than others. Seniors tend to have more difficulty maintaining balance when they slip. Frail bones also make them more likely to experience serious injuries, such as hip fractures, when they fall. During 2013, about 2.5 million elderly Americans were injured, and almost three-quarters of a million were hospitalized, as the result of falling.
Except for construction workers who are injured on the job, ground-level falls caused by slipping or tripping are more common than falls from a height. Work-related falls are generally (but not always) covered by worker’s compensation laws rather than personal injury laws. Worker’s compensation does not require proof of negligence but, as a trade-off, the compensation awarded by worker’s compensation is usually more limited than the compensation that is paid to resolve a personal injury claim.
When an accident victim is injured by a fall that does not occur at work, the victim is entitled to seek personal injury compensation from a company or person whose negligence contributed to the accident. Personal injury victims and their families need to understand the causes and results of slip-and-fall accidents as well as the steps they should take to protect their rights.
Locations of Slip-and-Fall Accidents
Slip-and-fall accidents occur in many different places, including malls, supermarkets, sidewalks, and apartment buildings. Common locations of slip-and-fall accidents include:
- Business entryways. Customers often track rain or snow into a business on wet days. Water creates a slipping hazard when it collects in entryways.
- Supermarket aisles. Water that sprays from the produce section onto the floor and liquids that spill from broken containers can make supermarket aisles dangerous places for unwary customers.
- Malls. Shoppers and their children frequently spill drinks and ice cream as they wander from store to store. Tripping hazards are posed by mall employees who fail to cover extension cords as they set up sound systems or make repairs.
- Businesses that use liquids or chemicals. Car washes and auto repair shops often have floors that are wet or coated with oil, creating a risk of slipping. Any business that mops its floors during business hours may be creating a hazardous condition.
- Bathtubs and shower stalls. Most hotels and motels provide safeguards against slipping in tubs and showers, but slippery bathroom surfaces can still pose a danger to patrons.
- Hospitals and nursing homes. Elderly patients are particularly prone to slipping and falling. When hospitals and nursing homes fail to provide adequate staff to supervise or assist patients with limited mobility, those patients are at risk of sustaining slip-and-fall injuries.
- Dance floors. Particularly when patrons are allowed to bring drinks onto a dance floor, nightclubs and other establishments that set aside dance floors must be particularly vigilant to guard against spills that will make the floor slippery.
- Other floors. Hardwood and tiled floors become slippery when they are wet or waxed, or when they are made of or covered with a smooth or worn material. Loose rugs and mats can also create slip-and-fall hazards on any floor.
- Stairs. Both indoor and outdoor stairways are common locations of slip-and-fall accidents. People slip on outdoor stairs (such as steps leading to a front door) when they are not kept free of ice and debris. Indoor stairways become dangerous when treads are not covered with slip-resistant materials.
- Escalators. Mechanical problems that cause an escalator to “jerk” instead of operating smoothly cause customers to fall.
- Ramps. The Americans with Disabilities Act requires wheelchair-accessible ramps to be slip-resistant. The failure to comply with that law can make the ramp dangerous for all users, not just those in wheelchairs.
- Sidewalks. Ice, snow, and loose stones cause people to slip on sidewalks. Uneven surfaces and sidewalk damage can lead to falls from tripping.
- Playgrounds. Playgrounds that are littered with trash create slip-and-fall hazards for running children. Rough playground surfaces, including loose gravel, contribute to the severity of injuries that children sustain in falls.
While worker’s compensation law usually applies to work-site accidents, slip-and-falls at work that are caused by the negligence of a third party (not the employer or a co-worker) may create an entitlement to personal injury compensation. Talk to a lawyer whenever you have doubts about the compensation you should receive for a slip-and-fall accident at work.
Injuries from Slip-and-Fall Accidents
About a quarter of all slip-and-fall accidents result in an injury that requires medical treatment. While some injuries are minor, others are severe. Common injuries include:
- Traumatic brain injuries. A blow to the head that results from a fall can cause a concussion. Concussions are classified as a traumatic brain injury. Most concussions resolve in a few days but they should always be taken seriously. Some concussions produce permanent brain damage or long-lasting symptoms that include memory loss, headaches, mood disorders, and impairment of the ability to reason and to concentrate. A brain hemorrhage after a fall can be fatal.
- Hip fractures. About 95% of all hip fractures are caused by falls, usually by falling sideways onto the hip. They are particularly common when the accident victim is elderly.
- Spinal injuries. The spine and neck are vulnerable when victims fall on their back. Dislocated or herniated discs, broken vertebrae, and other damage to the spinal column can lead to paralysis, nerve damage, and other lasting disabilities.
- Back and shoulder injuries. In addition to the spine, soft tissue injuries in the back, neck, and shoulders are a frequent consequence of falls after slipping. Brachial plexus injuries, involving damage to a bundle of nerves in the neck and shoulder, can cause slip-and-fall victims to lose muscle control and sensation in their arms and hands.
- Wrist, elbow, and hand injuries. The natural instinct when falling forward is to use your arms to break the fall. That instinct can result in fractured elbows, broken wrists or fingers, and torn or stretched ligaments and tendons.
- Leg, knee, ankle, and foot injuries. Slipping often causes one leg to stretch out in front of the body, causing a painful stretching or tearing of muscles, ligaments, and tendons. Ankles are frequently sprained during a slip-and-fall. Twisting a leg while falling can damage knee cartilage and other soft tissues, while an awkward fall can result in broken bones in the legs and feet.
Pain, suffering, mental anguish, and emotional distress accompany any physical damage to the body. Compensation for a slip-and-fall injury should cover not just the cost of treatment and rehabilitation to help you heal, but your loss of enjoyment of life during the time that your injury persists. When death results from a slip-and-fall, spouses and certain other family members are entitled to recover wrongful death compensation.
Causes of Slip-and-Fall Accidents
Most businesses have premises liability insurance, just as most property owners have homeowners insurance, to protect themselves from the consequences of careless acts that cause others to fall. Acts of negligence that contribute to falls include:
- Spilled liquids. When water or other liquids spill on the floor of a supermarket or other business, the business has an obligation to clean the spill and to warn consumers of the hazardous condition before the floor is dry. When a business (like a dance club or supermarket) should reasonably anticipate that spills will occur, they also have an obligation to watch for spills and to take steps to prevent them. When customers slip and fall because the business failed to take those steps, the customer is entitled to pursue a negligence claim against the business.
- Poor maintenance of entryways. Every business has an obligation to inspect entryways and to remove moisture from floors during wet weather. They may also be responsible for injuries caused by the failure to install non-slip mats that are designed to absorb moisture in entryways.
- Loose floor coverings. A rug, carpet, or mat that slides when someone steps on it is a hazardous condition that can cause a slip-and-fall. The failure to secure flooring materials can be an act of negligence that makes the property owner responsible for injuries sustained in a fall.
- Improper flooring materials and floor coverings. In areas like dance floors and stairways where falls are common, and in other areas where customers are at risk of slipping, businesses have an obligation to use slip-resistant flooring materials to protect the public.
- Poorly maintained floor coverings. In high traffic areas and stairways, worn carpeting that becomes “slick” may create a slipping hazard, just as frayed carpeting creates a tripping hazard.
- Improper cleaning. Most flooring manufacturers recommend special cleaning procedures, including specific cleaning products, to prevent their floors from losing their slip-resistant quality. The failure to follow those procedures, including the use of incorrect cleaning chemicals, is the kind of negligence that creates liability for slip-and-fall accidents. Failing to clean a slip-resistant floor can also reduce its slip-resistance. If a floor is not slip-resistant, waxing or polishing it can make it slippery.
- Clutter and trash. Slipping on a banana peel is funny when it happens in a cartoon, but it is no joke to a slip-and-fall victim who sustained an injury caused a business that allows trash or debris to collect in a parking lot, sidewalk, or floor. For example, when trash spills from a receptacle inside a mall and the mall operators ignore the problem, a slip-and-fall victim has a claim against the mall for injuries caused by slipping on the debris.
- Failure to remove loose gravel. Particularly on ramps, loose gravel makes it difficult for feet to stay in secure contact with the walking surface. The failure to keep ramps and other surfaces free of loose gravel can be negligent.
- Failure to repair potholes. Holes in roads, parking lots, and driveways can all cause unsuspecting individuals to trip, stumble, or slip. The failure to maintain outdoor surfaces is often a cause of slips and trips.
- Failure to repair uneven surfaces. Sidewalks and other surfaces contribute to stumbles when one section is slightly higher than another. The failure to repair those surfaces or to warn pedestrians is a negligent cause of accidental falls.
- Failure to remove snow and ice. Homeowners may be responsible for removing snow and ice from sidewalks, particularly those that lead to their front door. Business and mall owners have a responsibility to detect the buildup of ice on their business premises (including parking lots) and to cover it with sand or salt to reduce the threat of slipping.
- Failure to secure loose grates. A grate or drain cover that is not secured in place can shift position, causing the person who steps on it to lose balance.
- Failure to provide non-slip tub or shower surfaces and grab bars. A motel, gym, or other establishment that provides a bathtub or shower stall to customers should install non-skid adhesive strips or furnish a non-skid bath mat, along with grab bars to help patrons enter and exit tubs without slipping.
- Failure to provide stair rails. The problem of slippery stairs is compounded when rails are not provided on both sides of the stairway. The ability to grab a stair rail helps prevent a slip from turning into a fall.
- Failure to remove obstacles and clutter. Loose papers and other debris that litters a floor can cause customers to slip. Power cords and hoses that stretch across a floor can create tripping hazards. Other obstacles can also invite tripping accidents. For example, a pallet that juts into the aisle in a home improvement store may create a tripping hazard.
- Poor lighting. Slip-and-falls are more likely to occur when lighting has failed (or has never been installed), making it difficult to see patches of ice, wet spots, or other hazards.
- Failure to warn. When a floor has just been washed or a spill has not yet dried, property owners have a duty to warn customers of the hazard. Taping off the area, surrounding it with cones, or posting an employee to warn customers are steps that prevent slip-and-falls. The failure to do any of those things may be negligent.
While these are some of the most common examples, there are many other ways in which a slip-and-fall accident can occur. Any time another individual or business has created a hazardous condition that results in a fall, a personal injury lawyer can help the injury victim pursue fair compensation.
Actions to Take After a Slip-and-Fall Accident
The most important and immediate concern after a slip-and-fall accident is to take care of your health. To protect your right to receive the compensation you deserve, here are some other tips to keep in mind:
- Take pictures of the accident scene. If you have a camera on your mobile phone, take a photo of spilled liquids, icy steps, or other conditions that contributed to your fall. A video is even better.
- Ask for a copy of the accident report. If you fall inside a business, make sure that the employees notify the manager. Tell the manager you want a copy of the accident report that the business prepares.
- Get medical treatment. If you cannot move easily, wait for an ambulance to transport you to the emergency room. If you have a head or neck injury, wait for the assistance of paramedics before you try to move. Do not let store employees or customers try to lift you to your feet. They might make your injury worse.
- Document your injuries. Do not be shy about telling the emergency room doctor and every physician who treats you about all of your symptoms. The settlement value of your case may depend upon how well your injuries are documented in your medical records.
- Talk to a personal injury lawyer. Do not wait until it is too late to file an insurance claim before you see a lawyer. Do not try to talk to an insurance adjuster who might try to persuade you to accept a final settlement before you understand the full extent of your injuries. You need professional advice in order to maximize the compensation you deserve for your pain, suffering, and future healthcare expenses.
- Follow through on medical treatment. Do not stop treating because you lack time or because physical therapy sessions are painful. Insurance adjusters will assume that you are cured if you do not follow through on treatment that your doctors recommend. You can only protect your right to receive full compensation by doing everything your doctors ask you to do.
Your personal injury attorney will give you other advice that is tailored to your specific circumstances. While insurance adjusters often have the attitude that slip-and-fall claims are frivolous, your lawyer will understand the devastating impact that injuries from a fall have upon your life. If you are the victim of a slip-and-fall injury, you need experienced and dedicated slip and fall injury lawyers on your side.