In the U.S., it is technically legal to file a lawsuit for any reason, but a lawsuit does not automatically go forward just because it was filed. Often, judges will “throw out” a case that they believe has no merit. Sometimes, however, lawsuits that seem unjustified make their way to court. People often refer to these suits as “frivolous.” What sometimes seems frivolous, however, is completely reasonable.
There are several examples of lawsuits that hit the mainstream news, appearing frivolous. Many people will recall the McDonald’s suit from the 90s where a woman was burned by her coffee. More recently, the news decried the “Aunt from Hell,” who apparently sued her nephew after he jumped into her arms, injuring her. Upon closer inspection, however, neither of these cases was frivolous. The woman who was burned by her coffee proved that McDonald’s was serving their beverages much hotter than industry standards, and she was not the first to be harmed. The so-called Aunt from Hell needed additional compensation for her injuries, and through an obscure legal loophole, had no choice but to name her nephew to receive these damages.
Similarly, slip and fall cases are often viewed as frivolous, and it is easy to see why. Like the above examples, a cursory look makes the injured party appear money hungry. People often ask, “If you were clumsy enough to slip, why is that the property owner’s fault?” Without deeper investigation, this seems like a rational question. In this article, we will discuss slip and fall cases and attempt to explain why they are, indeed, justifiable. Like any personal injury claim, liability depends upon the facts of the case.
Why Do Slip and Fall Laws Exist?
With so much suspicion around slip and fall cases, people may question why the law protects someone who slipped. The answer goes back to who visits a property and why.
Property visitors fall under different legal classifications. For example, if you visit someone’s private property, you are considered a “licensee.” Essentially, the owner is granting you “license” to use their land. Homeowners have no particular obligation to protect you on their land. Unless they are somehow grossly negligent, you will not have many justifications to sue for injuries on their property.
When someone visits a business, they are considered “invitees.” Anyone inside the property, unless they are workers, is an invitee, whether they intend to buy or just browse. Invitees are the very reason the property exists, so business owners and managers have an obligation for their safety.
What if Someone Was Responsible for Their Own Slip and Fall Injury?
Just as the law protects consumers from a slip and fall, it also protects itself from frivolous lawsuits. New York is one of many states that uses comparative negligence in personal injury cases. The process is complicated, but essentially, plaintiffs can be held partially responsible for their own actions.
For instance, businesses should keep their parking lots free of dangerous, slick ice puddles. An elderly woman moving at a slow pace could still slip on this ice and be injured. She probably has just cause to file a lawsuit. However, imagine a young man who is doing acrobatics on this same surface. If he hurts himself and files a lawsuit, the courts could hold him at least partially responsible for his damages. In that case, he cannot receive full compensation for his injuries, even if the court holds the business somewhat responsible.
There is a reason why slip and fall lawsuits are allowed. The law has deemed them justified. This alone is an argument for their continued use, but let’s look a little deeper into the issue.
Ultimately, personal injury cases are not about vast sums of money or getting rich quick. Ostensibly, they are about compensation. If you’ve been harmed by someone else’s negligence, the law recognizes your need for compensation. You can receive damages for your medical bills and treatment. If you missed work or missed employment opportunities due to your injury, you can be financially compensated. You may also receive damages for your pain and suffering, especially if your injury led to a permanent disfigurement or disability.
A slip and fall injury can be serious. The human body is more fragile than we sometimes realize. Just falling from your standing height can cause serious damage. You can easily break bones, and knocks on the head can cause traumatic brain injuries. When utilized properly, a slip and fall lawsuit is not frivolous. It is about covering you for your damages.
Justified Slip and Fall Cases
Imagine you are in the deli section of a high-end grocery store. Customers scoop their own soup and pour their own soda. There is a soda spill, and someone slips on it, sustaining injury to their lower back. They hire a lawyer and file a lawsuit. The frivolousness of a lawsuit depends on the store’s response to a dangerous environment.
Imagine that the spill just occurred. One customer makes a mess, and another immediately slips and falls. Afterward, they sue the grocery store. If the store had no time to respond to the spill, the lawsuit may be frivolous.
However, a store could still be liable for an immediate spill that causes an injury. Perhaps the soda machine has a history of malfunctioning and spraying liquid. The store management knew about it, and they have done nothing to fix the problem. In this case, a lawsuit may be justifiable.
What matters most is the store’s awareness of potential spills and its efforts to fix the problem. In the first scenario, the management had no time to react to the situation. One customer spilled something, and another was hurt. In the second scenario, the store could have prevented a spill, and they failed to address the problem or warn their customers.
Here are some other ways a store could be responsible if you slipped on soda:
- The spill was reported to the management, and no one cleaned it.
- The spill sat unattended for an unreasonable amount of time. Management must be on alert for common dangers. At a soda station, coffee station, soup station, etc., staff should always be aware of spills. Left unattended, spills can create liability issues for a business.
- The spill was large and noticeable.
- The management does not have regular, routine inspections of their soda machines or surrounding areas.
- A surveillance camera recorded the spill, and no one responded.
It bears repeating: What matters most in a personal injury case is how and why something happened. Businesses are responsible for the safety of their customers. If they are negligent in this duty, they can be held responsible for injuries on their property.
If you’ve been injured at a place of business, reach out for a free consultation. Our number is (607) 228-8404, and you can contact us online.