Slip and Fall Notice Requirements – an Important Issue
We’ve explored slip and fall accidents in previous posts. In this article, we explore slip and fall notice requirements as they pertain to negligence lawsuits.
Slip and Fall Lawsuits Background
Actions in negligence begin with a duty of care being owed to other people/entities. When that duty is breached, and that breach causes the fallen to be damaged, the basics of a negligence lawsuit are in place.
A slip and fall lawsuit arises when a duty of care was breached, that breach caused the plaintiff to fall, and that fall resulted in damages. Slip and fall lawsuits normally target property owners or those who are in charge of the premises. To prove slip and fall negligence then, the plaintiff must show:
- a property owner negligently created the condition that caused the fall
- the property owner failed to maintain the area where the fall occurred
- or the property owner knew or should have known of the hazard and failed to cure or adequately warn others of the condition
It is the second and third scenarios where notice requirements are involved.
Slip and Fall Notice Requirement
Obviously, if a property owner creates the hazardous condition, he/she/it is aware of the condition and danger it poses to others. A failure to maintain the area however, involves a slightly different analysis since explicit knowledge of the condition is not a given. Because the law recognizes that property owners only have a duty to remedy conditions that are known or should be known, plaintiff must prove not only the condition was a hazard but also was known or should have been known.
Thus, whether the defendant “had notice” of the condition is a common issue during slip and fall litigation.
Actual vs. Constructive Notice
There are two types of notice: actual notice and constructive notice.
Actual notice means the defendant knew of the dangerous condition. This is done by proving the defendant directly observed the condition or were informed of the condition prior to the incident in question. Actual notice is an evidentiary question and can be proven with:
- inspection documents
- letters written by tenant or other party informing of the condition
- prior accidents
- verbal communications
Constructive notice is the legal fiction that a party received notice. Constructive notice is used if plaintiff cannot prove actual notice. When a plaintiff tries to prove constructive notice, they are asking the court to find that even though the defendant didn’t directly observe the condition (actual notice) nor were they informed of the hazard (actual notice), they should have known about the condition.
Examples of constructive slip and fall notice can include evidence the hazard existed for so long that the condition was obvious. Plaintiffs also sometimes try to show how regular/periodic inspections would reveal the condition and such inspections were/are reasonable.
If You Have Any Questions, Call 888-964-2224
In most jurisdictions, slip and fall notice is not enough to prove liability. Reasonableness is always a criteria when determining what a prudent party should or shouldn’t do under similar circumstances. Accordingly, states allow a reasonable time between the notice and the remedy – whether it is to eliminate the hazardous condition or warn others of the danger.
Consider an ketchup spill on Aisle 9 at the local supermarket. If a patron slips and falls on the condition a short time after the condition is created, liability will be much harder to prove since there was no opportunity for the business to remedy the condition. If 30 minutes elapses between the spill and the fall, liability will be easier to establish. Plaintiff would likely assert the grocer should take steps to monitor the aisles for debris and/or other hazards. Ultimately, what is “reasonable” is up to the judge or jury at trial. Maybe a jury would find that 30 was not long enough. Another jury might find the owners should monitor aisle in even shorter increments. Anything can happen at trial.
Other slip and fall notice issues are also present. For example, property ownership affects the impact of notice in certain cases. Consider a public building where an accident occurs. Most states have laws that protect public entities from liability. Sometimes referred to as Tort Claims Acts, these protections sometimes include an increased negligence standard but can also require “actual” written notice of a defective condition to be a condition on liability.
Legal Advice and Counsel
While slip and fall notice requirements are common in negligence, the nuances of negligence law are jurisdiction specific and are beyond the scope of this article. If you were injured in an accident, you should seek the advice of an attorney. As stated above, there are limitations in certain circumstances so seeing an attorney as soon as possible is imperative.
We hope this brief introduction into this topic will aid in your understanding of your legal options. As always, all legal topics offered herein are for informational purposes only and are subject to our disclaimer.
Thank you for your interest in slip and fall notice requirements and Fair Rate Funding.