Negligence & Liability Cases
You or a loved one or friend take a bad fall on a slippery sidewalk, or fall down some stairs at a movie theater, or slip on some grapes that fell onto the supermarket floor. You break your hip, fracture your arm, get a concussion. It is a horrible shock, because in most slip and fall cases, the accident happens immediately without any warning, and your body is not prepared for the fall.
Everyone says, “Call an attorney!” – and that is good advice because a personal injury lawyer can evaluate your particular slip and fall case and let you know if it is one that has the potential for a settlement either pre-trial, or in a courtroom.
Our Video Discusses Slip and Fall Cases using Examples from our Experience
Some slip and fall case are cut and dry where a store or municipality knew of a potentially dangerous issue and did not within a reasonable amount of time rectify the situation, while other cases have different circumstances that would make it difficult to prove negligence. This video will elaborate on the criteria for a successful slip and fall case with candid discussion between Chester County / West Chester PA personal injury attorneys Peter Hart and Stephen Hart, using many examples of past cases that were either taken on, or deemed too thin and inconclusive to proceed to the next step.
Personal Injury Slip and Fall Case Conversation Video Transcript:
>>> CAPTION: KARP & HART
>>> CAPTION: SLIP & FALL CONVERSATION
>>> STEVEN KARP: Pete how are you doing today?
>>> PETER HART: I’m doing great Steven and you?
>>> STEVEN KARP: I’m doing good too! We’re gonna talk today about slip and fall cases. Everybody has tripped and fell and stumbled and been hurt and all that, but there’s only a special kind of a case where under the law people can recover damages for.
>>> PETER HART: Steve, just because somebody falls on someone else’s property it doesn’t necessarily make the property owner responsible – hey I fell one somebody’s property, I want to file a claim. You must show that the property was defective, that there was a defect in the property and that the defect was substantial – not just a little small thing, a step that they tripped on, a rise or a curb, it has to be something really substantial.
>>> STEVEN KARP: So if I’m walking down the street wearing sandals and I trip over a thing that’s about an inch high, and it may not be great but it did cause me to trip, can I collect against that property?
>>> PETER HART: No I would submit that you really couldn’t. It’s such an inconsequential defect. Every piece of property around the country, especially is West Chester, Chester County, they have defective sidewalks. When I say defective there’s minor defects, it’s only when it’s a substantial or major defects. And I’d say in that situation at least a couple of inches or so.
>>> STEVEN KARP: Yeah, what about that situation, Pete, let’s say you’re in a store, we normally see it in a store, normally in a food store for some reason. There’ll be something on the floor that was spilled there, is that a good case?
>>> PETER HART: Sometimes it could be, sometimes not. You have to prove notice. the property owner has to either have been aware that there has been a defect in the property, and had the time to correct the defect.
>>> STEVEN KARP: Now you always give a good example, I’ve heard you give to clients, about grapes in a store.
>>> PETER HART: Yeah a perfect example, in a supermarket you come around a corner and the grapes that were squished on the floor, you fall down and break your hip. Say for example a young kid came around the corner a minute before and bumped into the bin and knocked the grapes to the floor, I submit that they’re not gonna be held responsible.
>>> STEVEN KARP: My client slipped on milk or slipped on a grape and we don’t know if that was there twenty seconds before or an hour before.
>>> PETER HART: Are the records kept, are there videos?
>>> STEVEN KARP: And you hear the owner of the store come over and say, “Hey I told you to clean that up twenty minutes ago and you didn’t!” That’s a good case.
>>> PETER HART: Oh absolutely! And I had a case where somebody came out of a grocery store and the owner had moved in some supplies and left the wooden pallets right outside the door and they actually happened to be the same color or blended into the sidewalk. The gentleman came around the corner, caught his right food, went down, two or three operations trying to get better! Was that a case? I suspected, yeah. He knew the pallets there, the owner put the pallets there. they shouldn’t have been in the position that they were.
>>> STEVEN KARP: And my most interesting case was someone, there was a display in the store, a display going down the steps of little trinkets, and it was mesmerizing to see it. Well, you don’t put it down the steps because people normally know there’s steps there but they’re looking at the display – and down the steps they went! We get a lot of calls in the winter time, I went outside and I slipped in a parking lot somewhere – do I have a case?
>>> PETER HART: Um, Probably not if it’s immediately after the snow storm because there’s a duty to clean up walks, make them reasonably safe, not completely safe, and they have a certain amount of time to do it. It’s kinda that notice issue, that a lot of statutes in Pennsylvania, a lot of local ordinances give the property owner twenty-four hours of so to clean it up.
>>> STEVEN KARP: It’s all what’s reasonable.
>>> PETER HART: That’s right, it all boils down to reasonableness!
>>> CAPTION: (610) 430-2200
>>> CAPTION: More information available on our website
Surveillance videos are used by insurance companies in personal injury lawsuits where the plaintiff has sustained big injuries. They send out an investigator with a video camera who is instructed to follow the plaintiff around in his or her daily activities for a few days. The investigator never reveals themselves, and may be several blocks away with a zoom camera or parked across the street from the plaintiff’s home in a windowless van. The plaintiff, therefore, never knows when he may be under surveillance.
Surveillance is legal. It isn’t an invasion of privacy even though someone is sneaking around taking pictures of you without your permission. When a person files a lawsuit, they are subject to the insurance company investigating them and their injuries – including video surveillance. There are exceptions, however. The insurance company investigator may not trespass on your property or physically abuse you. Having said that, I have had clients report surveillance people coming onto their porch and peeking through their windows.
Personal Injury Plaintiffs Caught on Camera
Insurance companies sometimes catch plaintiffs who are lying about their injuries. The plaintiff may say in a deposition that he is unable to lift anything over ten pounds, and then a video is presented at trial showing him doing his chores around town lifting extremely heavy objects. I have never had a surveillance of one of my clients showing them performing activity which was in excess of what they testified they could perform. That doesn’t mean that the insurance company won’t use the surveillance video. The normal surveillance video will show someone getting in and out of their car, going to the store, and performing the normal tasks that an injured person can do. But when the video is shown, for some reason it usually looks sinister. Just filming someone conveys the notion that they are sneaking around doing something wrong. A recent video of one of my clients showed them smoking a cigarette on their driveway, but when you look at the video, it appears that they’re trying to hide the fact that they’re smoking, like back in high school.
My Legal Strategy with Surveillance Videos in the Courtroom
I tried to use the surveillance video to strengthen my case. I explained to the jury that the defense followed my client around for five days in an attempt to find him doing strenuous activity, but all they got is video showing him engaged in the normal activities of life.
The use of surveillance videos is just another ploy by insurance companies to attack the injured plaintiff when they file a lawsuit.
The name “trial lawyer” has suffered a bad rap in the last 20 years. Going back to the beginning of our nation, trial lawyers were admired as men who represented the rights of citizens falsely accused or wronged by society.
Trial Lawyers in History
John Adams was one of the greatest trial lawyers in the colonial period. Thomas Jefferson tried cases in court. Perhaps the best known trial lawyer of all time was Abraham Lincoln who rode the circuit in Illinois and tried thousands of cases. Lincoln didn’t represent big companies. His clients were mostly poor who sometimes could not pay him in money but in goods and services.
Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Brian were two of the best trial lawyers in the early part of the 20th century. They opposed each other in the Scopes monkey trial, one of the greatest trials of all time. Even fiction glamorized the trial lawyer. Probably the most popular era of the trial lawyer was when Gregory Peck played Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. Consider Al Pacino in his great trial lawyer roles. How many young men and women applied to law school after seeing Joe Pesci play a struggling trial lawyer in My Cousin Vinny.
Tort Reform Impacts Trial Attorneys & The Justice System
But then in a famous speech in the 1980’s, George Bush referred to those “tassle-shoed trial lawyers” to imply that all they did was persuade stupid jurors to give jackpot justice to people bringing frivolous lawsuits. His son, George W. Bush, and the rest of the Republican party took up the mantel, and tort reform was on its way. Of course, to have tort reform, they had to demonize the American trial lawyer.
American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA) Changes Name
It got so bad that the American Trial Lawyers Association (ATLA), which has as its members most of the trial lawyers in this country, had to change its name. Focus groups convinced the name change from the American Trial Lawyers Association to the American Association of Justice, the name today. Even the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association, one of the most powerful state lawyer groups, changed its name to the Pennsylvania Associates of Justice.
Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers are Pushing Back
To their credit, a group of Pennsylvania trial lawyers said “enough is enough.” They were proud of being a trial lawyer representing innocent victims who were injured by the fault of other parties, and they didn’t feel ashamed of doing so. This group is now trying to change the name back to the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. (PaTLA). A vote of the group will shortly be held.
How did all this happen? How did trial lawyers who represent ordinary citizens in their fight against insurance companies, drug companies, big business and powerful medical associations get the blame? Trial lawyers take most of their cases on a contingency fee basis which means they only get paid if their client wins. The client, who would not have the money to fight big business, can hire the best lawyer and pay nothing unless he wins his case.
The answer is that it all happened because of money. Big business did not want to pay out damages to those individuals that it injured because of defective products, bad medication, polluted waters, unsafe working conditions, etc. By demonizing the trial lawyers, they try to make it more difficult for a lawyer to win a case in the courtroom and in effect, have a system of justice where only the rich can play.
West Chester, PA Trial Lawyer Opinion
When it comes time for the voting, I will vote to change the name back to the Pennsylvania Trial Lawyers Association. I am proud to be a trial lawyer on Chester County and I don’t mind if everyone knows it.
As a personal injury lawyer who handles slip and fall cases in the West Chester County area of Pennsylvania, occasionally I receive calls from prospective clients wishing to file claims against property owners for injuries they have suffered when a slip, trip or fall unfortunately happens to them. The callers almost always assume they are entitled to recover damages for the injuries from the property owner no matter what the circumstances of the fall. This could not be further from the truth.
For example, I had researched a case recently where a person slipped and fell in a department store. However, the potential client could not identify what he slipped and fell on other than that his hand felt damp when he placed it on the floor. This is not enough to win a case.
Pennsylvania Slip and Fall Case Overview
The standard of care owed by the owner of land to a person who enters the land depends upon whether the person who entered is an invitee, a licensee or a trespasser.
An invitee is a public or business visitor. This is a person who is invited to enter on the land as a member of the public for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public (such as a public park). A business visitor is a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for the purpose of directly or indirectly conducting business dealings with the owner or occupier of the land (shopping mall). A licensee is any other person permitted to enter with the owner’s consent. Another category which affords less rights to an individual is a trespasser. This is a person who enters the property without a right or privilege to do so. The only duty owed to a trespasser is to refrain from wanton or willful conduct. Other than that, they are on their own.
The owner of a business property is only required to use reasonable care to maintain the property. In other words, protect invitees from what they call “foreseeable” harm that the visitor may not recognize. An owner of land is required to periodically inspect his premises to discover dangerous situations and to correct them. In my slip and fall case example there are two questions; (1) was the floor really defective (wet) and (2) how long had it been wet. Had somebody come out of the store a minute before and dropped liquid or had the liquid been laying there long enough that a reasonable inspection would have discovered the problem giving the property owner time to clean it up? My client did know – and my investigation was unable to tell.
The owner of land is liable for harm caused to invitees by a condition on the land if:
The owner or occupier of land is liable to an invitee for any harm that the owner or occupier should have anticipated, regardless of whether the danger is known or obvious.
In the case of this particular slip and fall situation, the gentleman who fell, although he was a business invitee and (therefore a high degree of care was owed), he still could not prove what the dangerous condition was or that the floor was in a dangerous condition for such a long time that it should have been spotted and cleaned up.
I did not take the case. My experience as a personal injury attorney clearly told me that there was thin evidence, and that this unfortunate individual would not benefit from a lawsuit.