Slip/Trip and Fall

What is a Trip, Slip and Fall Case?

A trip, slip and fall case refers to the liability rules governing New Jersey cases in which an individual trips, slips or falls to the ground and suffers harm due to a dangerous condition on someone else’s property. As a part of New Jersey personal injury law, these cases are controlled by the basic rules of negligence.

Unless the accident occurs on federal government property, New Jersey State law will control. Violations of local building code ordinances can also be relevant and often times play a crucial role in establishing liability.

Despite the reference to a “Trip, Slip & Fall,” this area of the law covers any accident that results from an individual encountering an unsafe condition that affects their footing, whether it produces a stumble, overextension, twist, or other movement.

Direct causes can include spilled liquids or food, cracked sidewalks or stairs, objects on the stairs, ice and snow, broken floor tiles, uneven steps and potholes. Indirect causes, such as dim lighting or missing handrails, can also contribute to a trip, slip or fall personal injury matter.

If you are injured in a trip, slip or fall accident it is extremely important that the accident site is photographed as soon as possible. Having photographs of the defective steps, walkway, sidewalk, floor, ect., is invaluable to your case. In many instances once an individual is injured the negligent party will rush to fix the defect. If you have been injured in a trip, slip or fall accident you should have the accident site immediately inspected and any defects immediately photographed.

At the beginning of a slip and fall lawsuit, the responsible parties must be identified. While fault can usually be traced to an individual employee or tenant who caused the hazard, there will be additional parties who exercised control or ownership of the accident site. These may include the property manager, business owner, landlord, or the owner of the property. In most cases, one or more of these parties will have liability insurance covering the property.

If the identity of a responsible party cannot be immediately determined, or if there is uncertainty as to the precise name of one of the defendants, New Jersey allows the Plaintiff to name a “John Doe” defendant. Once the responsible party has been identified, the court documents can be amended to substitute the correct name in place of the “John Doe.” This allows a plaintiff who is still researching the case to file the claim on time.

Special considerations arise when a trip, slip and fall accident takes place on public property. Foremost is the issue of sovereign immunity. While the government now allows itself to be sued in limited circumstances, there are extremely strict time limitations that a Plaintiff must adhere too. Therefore, if you are injured on public or government property it is extremely important that you contact an attorney immediately.

Proving the Defendant is Liable

Most trip, slip and fall cases will require the plaintiff to prove that the defendant was negligent. Negligence means that the defendant failed to act in a reasonable manner under the circumstances.

For example, it is reasonable to expect a store clerk will place warning signs in recently mopped areas to warn patrons that the floor is wet. If this is not done, and a customer slips on the wet floor and gets hurt, the store may be liable for negligence.

Whether someone acted negligently will depend on several different factors including what they knew or reasonably should have known at the time of the accident. This is especially true in trip, slip and fall cases, as the defendant’s knowledge of a dangerous condition will usually lead to liability. The plaintiff is entitled to find out what the defendant knew at the time of the accident through a procedure called discovery. During discovery, the defendant can be forced to turn over maintenance records, repair logs, surveillance video, photographs and many other forms of information.

A trip, slip and fall victim is also permitted to gather sworn testimony regarding the facts which lead to the injury or the dangerous condition on the property. The plaintiff does not need to wait until trial to learn what the witnesses will say. This is accomplished by conducting depositions (record interviews), and serving interrogatories and document requests. Subpoenas can also be served on other fact witnesses appear for a deposition at the office of the Plaintiff’s attorney, and to answer questions about the accident on the record.

Deposition testimony is very important in a negligence case. By securing this evidence early in the litigation, both the plaintiff and the defendant gain an understanding of the circumstances that led to the accident and the degree of fault that can be attributed the defendant and or his or her employees or agents. Taking into account the severity of the injury, both sides can then determine what they believe the case is worth, and settlement negotiations will ensue.

If you are a plaintiff in a New Jersey trip, slip and fall case you can be assured that the defendant will raise the defense of comparative fault. Comparative fault, also known as contributory negligence, holds a party responsible for his or her share of the blame which contributed to the accident or injury. Therefore, it is important that a victim of a trip, slip or fall accident contacts an experienced New Jersey personal injury attorney as soon as possible. They should avoid speaking with other parties about the incident as others might use those statements against the individual at a later time to prove comparative fault or contributory negligence.

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