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Slip and Fall Accidents - Progression and the Law

Robert Karns

Although the liability in slip & fall accidents can be difficult there have been progressions in the law that create inroads in the legal doctrines making it easier to prove liability.

The "traditional approach" states that a store owner is held liable for injuries occurring on his premises only if he had actual or constructive notice of the existence of the dangerous condition, and had sufficient time to remedy the dangerous condition. Some of the legal progressions that have occurred are as follows:

  • Fully examining the facts showing that the store owner should have known even if he didn't have actual notice because the dangerous condition had been there for a reasonable amount of time for him to realize it. This could be shown by discoloration of the item that was on the floor that the person fell on or if it's liquid, the fact that the liquid was tracked all over the isle meaning it had been there for a sufficient amount of time to be cleaned up. Another way would be to question the store owner if they maintain a sweeping or cleaning log to show how often the isles are inspected.
  • Mode of operation - Circumstances where store owners invite customers to use "self-service" manipulate merchandise displays and take items there is a foreseeable risk that customers handling of the merchandise or displays will cause items to fall on the floor. The owner of a self-service store has actual knowledge that this mode of operation creates certain risks of harm to customers and injuries are foreseeable. Therefore a customer taking grapes from a display and some of the grapes fall on the floor and another customer slips on them this creates liability on the store owner. This is a huge inroad to the store owner having actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition as he does have actual knowledge of the self-service mode of operation.

Regarding slip & fall accidents on ice and snow, the classic rule permits a landlord to wait a reasonable time after the end of the storm to clear snow and ice. This approach allows the landlord to wait a reasonable amount of time after the storm had ceased to treat the ice and snow. There have progressions in the law on this as well as follows:

  • The existence of "unusual circumstances" provides an inroad to the doctrine that the snow and ice does not have to be treated until the storm ends. One such circumstance when a landlord knows it is dangerous if the risk is foreseeable and still does not clear the area. The area must be cleared then before the storm is over.
  • Another inroad is that in many cities and towns in Rhode Island even though liability against the city or state is extremely difficult for snow covered or icy sidewalks there can very well be liability against the landowner that owns the land abutting the sidewalk if the city or town where the sidewalk is has passed that type of ordinance.
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