Slip and Falls
You often hear of attorneys who advertise that they represent people in slip and fall cases. But what does this mean? We are in fact referring to instances in which a person slips and falls while on the property of another person and due to the negligence of that other person. Not just any fall will do to create liability that will result in damages being paid.
If a person is injured after they slip or fall due to the negligence of another person, then Connecticut law says that the other person should be responsible for the injury that they caused. Slip and fall injuries can be compensable in several ways.
One of the most common ways for a slip and fall to be compensable is when the victim slips and falls while on the property of another person or business. Obviously, not just any slip and fall is compensable. The injury must have been caused by an unreasonably dangerous condition on the property of another person, and there was a failure to warn of the dangerous condition or to eliminate the danger. Owners of property are said to have a duty to warn of a danger or to make the condition safe. The level of duty may vary depending on the reason why a person is on the land of another person, and that discussion is beyond the scope of this website.
One of the highest levels of duties is imposed on landowners who invite members of the public onto their land for a commercial purpose. Thus, any commercial store owner has such a duty. These injuries can occur when something slippery is spilled on the floor of the store, or if an item that is stacked high upon a shelf falls over onto the customer and injures him or her. The owner of the land must have had notice however of the dangerous condition for the injury to be compensable, or at least should have known that the condition existed. Attorney Kevin L. Hoffkins is skilled at finding the evidence that the condition was known to the landowner and should have made the condition safe.
Other slip and falls can happen on public lands including sidewalks or public parks. For instance, sometimes construction crews create dangerous conditions that can injure pedestrians as they walk by the construction site. Compensable slip and fall injuries can also occur when municipalities fail to properly maintain their parks.
As stated elsewhere on this website, to create liability for damages, there must be a duty recognize at law that is breached. The law recognizes that the possessor of land have varying types of duties depending on the class of the people who enter on the land. Connecticut courts have adopted the policy that the possessors of land are in the best position to insure that their land is safe. Ordinarily a possessor of land has no duty to trespassers since he may rightfully assume that they will not be there. However, is he does know of a trespasser’s presence or if he knows that people, particularly children, regularly trespass on his land, then the possessor of land may be liable to a trespasser.
The law does recognize a possessor of land’s duty to people who are on the land which the law classifies as licensees. At common law, a licensee is someone who has been invited onto the land for social reasons. A trespasser whose presence becomes known to the possessor of land also becomes a licensee. A possessor of land owes a duty to not harm a licensee intentionally, to exercise due care once the presence is known, and to warn of dangerous conditions once their presence is known. The possessor of land owes no duty for obvious conditions, but only for concealed conditions. The possessor of land must have actual or constructive notice of the condition.
The law has third category of entrants on land known as invitees. Invitees are people who are invited on land for a business reason. Connecticut General Statute Section 52-557a has abrogated the common law, by directing that a social guest in Connecticut must be treated the same way as a business invitee. To be a business invitee, the entrant on land must be entering for a business purpose rebounding to the possessor of land. A good example is any store that invites people in to buy items sold in the store. You can also have a public invitee who is someone who is allowed to enter land that is open to the public whether the land is publicly or privately owned. The possessor of land owes the business invitee the same duties that he owes to the licensee but more. The possessor of land also owes the invitee the duty to inspect the premises for dangers and to erect safeguards if necessary to render the premises reasonably safe. The possessor of land is also liable for defects which would be discovered by a reasonable inspection of the premises, and he has a duty to warn the invitee of any dangers. Thus the business invitee is owed the highest duty of all of the classes of entrants onto land.
Whether an entrant onto land is a trespasser, licensee or an invitee is a question of fact for the jury to decide.
A recent case involving a slip and fall that resulted in a $1.1 Million settlement in Connecticut is a good example of a slip and fall case at a private residence. In this case, A UPS driver was delivering a package at a person’s home at approximately 7:00 p.m. in the evening. There had been a snowstorm earlier that day which ended at approximately 11:00 a.m. So eight hours elapsed from the time that the storm ended until the injury occurred. The UPS worker walked the package up a flight of steps to the front door of the residence when he fell on some ice. He broke his ankle. He called for assistance from someone in the home but no one answered. He had to crawl to his truck and drive to his own home which fortunately was not far away. He suffered a non displaced fibula fracture, tears of ligaments and a longitudinal split tear of the peroneusbrevis tendon. The surgeon had to wait six weeks for the swelling to go down before he could operate. The worker required three surgeries, and his doctors told him he would never be able to return to that job.
The question in this case is whether the UPS deliveryman is a licensee or an invitee. Traditionally, a fireman who comes onto the property responding to a fire call is a licensee as is postman because they are on your property as part of their public duties and not at your specific invitation. A UPS deliveryman might be considered a invitee under CGS 52-557a, however, that statute requires that the social guest specifically be invited as opposed to just having permission to be on the property. In this case, a settlement was reached without court adjudication to tell us whether the UPS driver was an invitee or a licensee. However, based on the above analysis, it would seem he is more of a licensee.
The next question is what duty did the homeowner owe to this licensee. Although generally where the possessor of land owes no duty until he knows that that the licensee is actually on the property, in this case the homeowner probably had some notice. There is case law concerning mail carriers which holds that you know the mail carrier is coming because he comes Monday through Saturday of every week whenever he has mail for you. Therefore, you should know the mail carrier is coming and you have notice. The UPS driver is similar, for even though he doesn’t come every day, you should know you have a package coming. That package could be delivered on the day after a snowstorm.
The possessor of land must also have knowledge of the dangerous condition. Snow and ice on a person’s front steps is an obvious dangerous condition. We know that the snow storm ended at 11:00 a.m. and the injury occurred eight hours later. Thus, the homeowner had constructive notice of the condition, and should have taken measures to make the premises safe such by shoveling or putting down salt on the stairs that the deliveryman slipped on.
The law of the duty of possessors land to people who enter on their land is quite extensive and complicated. The above article is meant only as an introduction and is not intended as legal advice. If you have a case that involves a slip and fall on someone else’s property, you will no doubt need the services of an experienced attorney in this area of law.
In this case, the UPS worker would have had the status of an licensee. Remember that the possessor of land has the duty to make safe conditions which he knows are dangerous on the land. The law includes constructive notice of a danger as well as actual notice.