Articles Posted in Slip and Fall Accidents

When someone slips and falls in public, they may be embarrassed and assume that their fall was 100% their fault. However, it is important for Washington, D.C. residents to remember that there are often times where a property owner is responsible for allowing a hazardous situation on their property—a situation that causes people to slip and fall. In fact, those injured in these types of accidents may even be able to bring a personal injury lawsuit against a property owner to claim monetary damages, which can cover past and future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost wages incurred due to the accident.

To be successful in a Washington, D.C. premises liability lawsuit, a plaintiff typically must prove that the hazardous situation that caused them to slip was not “open and obvious.” For example, if there were a large hole in a parking lot, but the hole is large, obvious, and roped off, then it is likely an open and obvious hazard, and someone who falls in may not be able to successfully recover.

Often, parties in these lawsuits will disagree about what constitutes an open and obvious danger. Take a recent state appellate case, for example. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was taking her children to get ice cream when she tripped on a small hole in the pavement outside the ice cream shop. She sued the property owners, but the defendants argued they could not be held liable because the small hole was open and obvious. The trial court agreed and granted judgment to the defendants without even allowing it to get to a jury, but the case was appealed.

When someone is injured in a Washington, D.C. accident, the law allows them to file a personal injury lawsuit against the party responsible for their injuries. These lawsuits can provide injured plaintiffs with financial compensation for their injuries, including money to cover their medical expenses. However, courts across the country have struggled with how to calculate the amount owed in medical expenses in situations where the total cost is much larger than what the plaintiff has actually paid, due to health insurance. In some cases, courts have even reduced plaintiffs’ awards, granted to them by a jury, meaning the plaintiff is given less than a jury of their peers decided they were owed.

For example, take a recent premises liability case arising out of a slip and fall accident on a cruise ship. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff in the case was on a cruise with her family and eating at the ship’s breakfast buffet when she tripped over a cleaning bucket and fell to the floor, sustaining injuries to her shoulder and fracturing her humerus. Since the incident, the plaintiff has been to many doctor’s appointments, physical therapists, and specialists to deal with her injuries.

The plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the cruise company, alleging negligence in leaving the cleaning bucket in a highly trafficked area around the breakfast buffet. After trial, the jury returned a verdict for the plaintiff and awarded her over $1 million in damages, including $61,000 to cover past medical expenses. This award for medical expenses roughly matched the amount billed by the plaintiff’s healthcare providers. However, the district court reduced this part of the jury award to $16,326 because that was the amount that the plaintiff and her insurer actually paid. The plaintiff appealed this reduction.

In some personal injury cases, negligence may be obvious from the accident itself. In these situations, a plaintiff in a Washington, D.C. injury case may be able to invoke the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor. Res ipsa loquitor is a legal doctrine that applies in negligence cases where negligence is obvious from the occurrence itself. Under Washington, D.C. law, a plaintiff that invokes the doctrine is required to prove, 1.) the occurrence is one that normally does not occur in the absence of negligence; 2.) the occurrence was caused by an agent or instrument that was within the defendant’s control; and 3.) the plaintiff did not cause or contribute to the incident resulting in heir injuries.

Washington, D.C. courts have cautioned against the use of the doctrine. Courts have held that a plaintiff must show that negligence can be inferred based on matters of common knowledge or present an expert to explain that the accident generally did not occur in the absence of negligence. In a recent case, another state’s appeals court considered whether the doctrine absolved the plaintiff of proving that a defendant had notice of a dangerous condition after the plaintiff’s chair broke on a cruise ship.

The plaintiff in the noted case sat on a chair on a Carnival cruise ship and the chair collapsed. After she fell, she saw that a leg had fallen off the chair. At the medical center aboard the ship, they found her arm was not broken and she was given Tylenol, ice, and a sling. After the cruise, the plaintiff discovered that she was suffering from medial epicondylitis and ulnar neurapraxia, or tendinitis, and a nerve injury. The plaintiff filed suit against the cruise line, alleging in part that it had failed to inspect and maintain the cabin furniture. After a court dismissed her case, an appeals court considered whether the doctrine of res ipsa loquitor applied. The plaintiff argued that even if the cruise line did not have notice of the chair’s dangerous condition, it could still be held liable under the this doctrine.

In the District of Columbia, landowners have a general duty to exercise reasonable care to make the property reasonably safe. If a landlord has notice of a dangerous condition, including a hazardous accumulation of snow or ice, the landowner must exercise ordinary care under the circumstances to remove the dangerous condition. This means that a landlord may have a duty under Washington, D.C. premises liability law, to take feasible measures while a storm is still in progress. However, to hold a landlord responsible for their injuries, a plaintiff must show that the landlord knew or should have known about the dangerous condition, including the presence of snow or ice. This means that often, a landlord who does not know about a dangerous accumulation of snow or ice has a reasonable amount of time after the conclusion of a storm to remove the snow or ice.

Recently a state appellate court issued an opinion holding that a landlord was not be protected by the state’s continuing storm doctrine, because the landlord failed to prove that there was a continuing storm based on the weather at the time of the plaintiff’s fall. In that case, the plaintiff slipped and fell on an icy sidewalk outside of her apartment. She filed a lawsuit against her landlord, claiming that the landlord was negligent in failing to keep the path in a safe condition. The landlord argued the according to the continuing storm doctrine, he did not have time to remove or ameliorate the snow or ice at the time that the plaintiff fell.

Under the continuing storm doctrine, a landlord generally may wait until the end of a storm or a reasonable time thereafter to remove ice and snow from an outdoor walkway. The idea is that because of the changing conditions present during a storm, it is not practical or necessary to remove ice and snow. To establish that the continuing storm doctrine applies, there must be meaningful, ongoing accumulation of snow or ice. The court held that in this case, there was a factual dispute as to whether there was a continuing storm. The weather reports showed only trace amounts of precipitation throughout the day, and thus, there was no clear evidence that there was an ongoing accumulation of snow or ice. Therefore, the court held that the landlord failed to show it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law under the continuing storm doctrine.

Many Washington, D.C. residents try to get away from their hectic and busy lives by planning a relaxing cruise vacation. These ships can travel all around the world and are generally a great way to unwind. However, just as in real life, accidents can happen on vacation. Sometimes a tragic incident can ruin a cruise and leave a plaintiff seriously injured. When this happens, Washington D.C. residents should remember that they may be able to file a personal injury lawsuit against the cruise line to recover for the harm they suffered.

Take for example a recent federal case against Carnival cruise lines. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff was on vacation with her family aboard a Carnival cruise ship. Tragically, while on one of the decks of the boat, her three-year-old daughter fell off the deck onto the deck below, suffering head injuries. Eyewitness accounts report that the toddler was climbing the railing, although reports vary as to whether the toddler fell over or fell through the railing. The plaintiff sued Carnival cruise line, alleging negligence in the creation and maintenance of the guardrail.

Generally, to be successful in a personal injury claim, the plaintiff must prove three things: (1) that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care; (2) that the defendant breached that duty; (3) that the defendant’s breach caused the accident or injury; and (4) that the plaintiff suffered actual harm as a result. The court in this case was focused on the first requirement—establishing the duty of care—because the defendant had filed a motion for summary judgment to dismiss the case, claiming that they did not have notice of the danger or hazard and thus had no duty to fix it.

Defendants work hard to try to avoid liability when they face a lawsuit. One way in which defendants in Washington, D.C. premises liability cases may try to avoid liability is by filing a motion for judgment as a matter of law, or a directed verdict. These types of motions are routinely filed, as they provide a potential basis for an appeal if the case is not decided in the defendant’s favor.

One recent case illustrates a set of facts under which an appeals court found a directed verdict was not proper. In that case, the plaintiff had sued his apartment complex, alleging two counts of negligence and negligent repair after he slipped in a bathtub at his apartment. Before the plaintiff moved into the apartment, the owner had the unit inspected by the owner’s maintenance team. A week after he moved in, the plaintiff’s wife sent the apartment complex a list of items that needed to be addressed, including a  bathtub that was draining slowly. A maintenance person came to address the bathtub issue, and noted afterward that it was working correctly. A month later, the plaintiff was taking a shower, and the water failed to drain properly, causing the water to rise over his feet. He slipped and fell, causing him to sustain a deep cut in his back that required hospitalization, stitches, and therapy. The plaintiff and his wife did not notice a problem with the bathtub drain between the service call and when the plaintiff slipped and fell.

The apartment complex filed a motion for a directed verdict, the trial court denied it, and a jury found in the plaintiff’s favor and attributed zero liability to him. The apartment complex appealed, arguing in part that the trial court should have directed a verdict in its favor. The appeals court disagreed. It found the issue of whether the apartment complex negligently repaired the bathtub drain, causing the bathtub to back up with water later, was an issue for the jury to decide. Taking the facts in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the drain did clog again, and reasonable people could find that there was sufficient notice and negligent repair, and that the clogged drain caused him to injure himself.

Business owners generally have a duty to protect customers from known hazards under Washington, D.C. law. To prove a dangerous condition existed in a Washington, D.C. premises liability case, a plaintiff must show that the defendant either had actual notice or constructive notice of the hazardous condition. To prove constructive notice, a plaintiff has to show the condition existed for long enough that the defendant should have known of the condition and corrected it in the exercise of reasonable care. The duration of the hazard is an important factor, and the evidence in support of constructive notice often includes evidence of how long the hazard existed. Other evidence may include, for example, the frequency that a defendant inspects for hazards. However, whether notice is sufficient to amount to constructive notice depends on the facts of the particular case.

In a recent case before a state appellate court, the court considered whether a store may have had constructive notice of a puddle of water on the floor before the plaintiff slipped and fell in it. In that case, the plaintiff slipped and fell on the puddle of water at a supermarket. The plaintiff claimed that the plaintiff was negligent because of the existence of the dangerous condition. In the course of discovery in the case, the plaintiff’s sister was deposed, who was there when the plaintiff fell. In the sister’s deposition, the sister was asked only about where the water came from and whether the puddle appeared transparent. She stated that she did not know where the water came from and believed the water was clear.

After the defendant filed for summary judgment, the plaintiff submitted an affidavit from her sister. In the affidavit, the plaintiff’s sister stated that shortly after the plaintiff fell, she saw a pool of water on the ground near a cooler. She explained the puddle was elongated and appeared to have been stepped in by multiple people because there were track marks or footprints to and from the puddle. The store argued that the affidavit should have been stricken from the record, because the affidavit repudiated the sister’s deposition testimony.

In a Maryland slip and fall case, a plaintiff has the burden of proving several elements before they are entitled to recover for their injuries.  Maryland slip and fall victims must prove that a dangerous condition existed, that the defendant had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous condition, and that the defendant had knowledge in enough time for the opportunity to remove the condition or to warn the plaintiff. This means that a plaintiff generally has the burden of proving what the defendant actually knew —  or what the defendant should have known, given the surrounding circumstances. Thus, the knowledge requirement can be broken down into actual knowledge and constructive knowledge.

If a plaintiff claims the defendant had constructive knowledge, they must show how long the dangerous condition was present before their fall. If a plaintiff fails to prove that the defendant created or knew of the dangerous condition, or that it existed long enough so that the defendant should have known about it, the defendant is entitled to summary judgment.

In a recent appellate opinion, the court dismissed a slip and fall case against a grocery store after a woman slipped and fell while shopping. The woman claimed that she fell on a liquid on the floor while she was at the store that appeared to be from a squished grape. The store argued that there was no evidence that the store had actual or constructive knowledge that there was any liquid on the floor. The woman claimed that there was a dispute over whether the liquid was on the floor long enough that the store should have been aware of the substance.

When someone slips and falls in Washington, D.C., they may believe that they are the only ones at fault for their accident and resulting injuries. They may be embarrassed to tell anyone, or to complain about a hazardous condition that caused them to fall. But Washington, D.C. law protects plaintiffs who fall under these circumstances by allowing them to file a civil negligence suit against a property owner if they are negligent or reckless in maintaining their property. This is true for landlords who own commercial apartment complexes or business owners maintaining a shop for the public. While not liable in every situation where someone is harmed on their property, these individuals have a duty to ensure that dangerous conditions are remedied or handled in such a way as to minimize the chance of injury.

Nevertheless, Washington, D.C. plaintiffs should be aware that not every injury on a property is the fault of the owners. There are many cases where a court may determine that the condition that caused the fall was “open and obvious,” such that the plaintiff should have reasonably seen it and avoided it. For example, a state supreme court recently held that a plaintiff was not entitled to relief when they tripped over a yellow speed bump in the defendant’s parking lot. According to the court’s written opinion, the plaintiff admitted she saw numerous yellow lines on the parking lot and that, since she had been in that parking lot many times, she must have previously noticed the speed bumps. The trial court entered judgment in favor of the defendants, finding that the plaintiff had not provided evidence that there was a hazardous condition in the parking lot, a requirement for her claim to succeed. The plaintiff appealed.

On appeal, the plaintiff argued that a speed bump is inherently dangerous and is only considered “open and obvious” if it is properly designed and maintained and it is marked with signs warning the public about its existence. According to the plaintiff, the speed bump was not properly designed because it was the same color as the lines marking individual parking spaces, and there were no warning signs. The court, however, disagreed, finding that the speed bump was open and obvious and the plaintiff could have reasonably been expected to be aware of its existence and avoid tripping over it. Ultimately, the court did not find any evidence suggesting that the bump constituted a dangerous condition under the meaning of the law, and the plaintiff’s suit was dismissed.

A state appellate court recently considered a case highlighting the importance of local contributory negligence laws in Washington, D.C. slip and fall cases. According to the court’s decision, the defendant, an auto car dealership, hired a cleaning company to clean the dealership. The plaintiff was an employee of the cleaning company and was covering for another employee janitor while cleaning the dealership one night. While cleaning, the plaintiff decided to take out the trash before scrubbing the floors of a certain area of the dealership. On his way to the dumpster, however, he slipped in a puddle of oil and transmission fluid that he had not seen previously.

As a result of his slip and fall accident, the plaintiff suffered a severe knee injury, and he eventually brought suit against the defendant dealership to seek monetary compensation. In his suit, he argued that the dealership was negligent by breaching their duty to maintain reasonably safe premises for him and that he suffered injuries as a result.

Under Washington, D.C. law in this situation, the defendant dealership might be able to argue that the plaintiff was partially at fault for his injuries, because he knew there was likely to be oil and transmission fluid on the floor and he thus should have been more careful. Employers do have a duty of care to provide reasonably safe working conditions for those who work for them, but employers faced with this type of liability may want to argue that the victim was contributorily negligent and thus partially responsible for the accident.

Contact Information