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How Is Shared Fault Determined in Slip & Fall Cases?

February 25, 2020 in

New York uses a pure comparative negligence system when awarding monetary compensation to slip and fall plaintiffs. This means injured victims may still recover damages if they are partially to blame. However, their compensation will be reduced by their percentage of liability. Therefore, it is vitally important to understand how shared fault is determined.

Theories of Fault

The vast majority of slip and fall lawsuits revolve around the question of negligence. The court will assess the involvement, and the amount of negligence, or fault, that belongs to each person for causing the accident or injury. However, the burden falls on the plaintiff to prove the property owner, or defendant, is at least partially responsible. Typically, one of the following theories must be demonstrated:

  • A property owner, or their employee, failed to remedy a dangerous condition (i.e. a broken handrail or spill on the floor) by either repairing or removing it. The main question is whether a reasonable person would have identified the condition as hazardous, and whether the defendant had been an ample amount of time to fix the danger prior to the accident occurring.
  • A property owner, or their employee, was responsible for causing the dangerous condition that led to the slip and fall accident. For example, a trip and fall accident is foreseeable when an unsafe obstacle is left in the middle of a walkway.

Did the Property Owner Act Reasonably?

In order to be held as negligent and liable for damages, the property owner must have failed to act reasonably. Therefore, the court will examine whether the owner acted as a reasonably prudent person would have when in the same circumstances. To do so, the following factors will be considered:

  • Was the hazardous condition or obstacle present long enough that a reasonable property owner could have seen and eliminated the hazard?
  • Was there a routine in place for checking for potential property hazards, and was it completed prior to the slip and fall accident?
  • Was there a justifiable reason for the potentially dangerous condition to exist?
  • Were there preventative measures that could have been taken to make the condition less hazardous, such as a warning sign for visitors?
  • Did poor visibility or lighting play a role in the accident?

In order to decrease liability, a property owner or their insurance carrier, will likely argue that the injured victim shares or is completely at fault for the slip and fall. This argument is made under New York’s rule of pure comparative negligence.

How the Plaintiff May Share Liability

A property owner may use the following points to prove a plaintiff’s injury was caused by their own carelessness, therefore, reducing or eliminating their fault in the accident:

  • The plaintiff was distracted, preventing them from noticing a hazard that a reasonable person would have (i.e. using a cellphone)
  • The plaintiff was trespassing at the time of the injury, or had no reason to be in the dangerous area where the slip and fall occurred.
  • The plaintiff ignored warning signs, or other safety measures.

If the property owner is successful in proving a plaintiff’s involvement in causing their injury, then the court may determine that they share in liability and reduce the claimant’s damages award. For example, if $10,000 is awarded to a slip and fall plaintiff who is also 25% to blame, they would only be able to collect $7,500.

Call Sullivan Papain Block McGrath Coffinas & Cannavo, P.C. for Help

Reducing your amount of shared fault and convincing the court that a property owner should be held responsible for your slip and fall injury, is a complex matter. You will need an experienced lawyer on your side to make the strongest possible case. Get in touch with us by calling (212) 732-9000 and schedule a free case evaluation today.