The Pit Falls of Slip and Fall Injuries

It seems to be a nearly universal misconception that property owners are automatically responsible for any injury or damages suffered on their property. It is an unfortunate surprise for many to learn that this could not be further from the truth. However, there are certainly circumstances where property owners are responsible for the harms and losses relating to injuries suffered on their property. In South Carolina, Property owners owe very specific duties to people on their property. When property owners breach those duties and injuries result, the property owner is responsible for the damages.

We refer generally to the duties owed by a property owner and the liability that arises from a breach of those duties as “Premises Liability.” In South Carolina Premises Liability cases, the law is well established. In order to recover damages, the injured victim must prove that the owner of the property breached a duty owed to the injured party.  The most common example of premises liability cases involve a slip and fall in a store.

South Carolina categorizes the type of duties owed to the persons on the owner’s premises. A person shopping or visiting a store would be categorized as an “Invitee.” Store owners owe an invitee a duty of due care to avoid creating unreasonable risks/hazards and to discover unreasonable risks/hazards on their premises. In a slip and fall case, store owners are responsible only if the injured party can prove:

a.) that the owner actually placed the foreign substance on the floor; or
b.) that the owner knew or should have known that the substance was on the floor.

The injured party must then prove that the store owner or its employees failed to remove the substance or warn others that it is there. Of course, people are also expected to watch where they are going; a store owner would not be responsible if the substance or other hazard is “open and obvious.” That is, if a reasonable person would have noticed the substance or other hazard, the property owner is not required to remove it or warn others that it is there.

Many slip and fall injuries occur when a store employee mops leaving a wet floor. In this situation, the store employee creates the risk and therefore have a duty to either remove it or warn others of its existence.  This is why you will see employees place a “wet floor” sign in an area that has recently been mopped. By placing the sign, the property owner has warned of the hazard and would not be responsible for injuries resulting from a slip and fall on the wet floor. However, if the employee fails to place the “wet floor” sign and a slip and fall occurs, the store owner would be responsible for damages that result.

Practically speaking, this makes recovery in slip and fall cases challenging. The challenges become proving if and when the store owner or the store employees knew that the substance was on the floor. We often have to rely on store video, pictures, witness and employee testimony as well as circumstantial evidence in order to recover. It is therefore extremely important to move quickly following an injury in order to collect valuable evidence and  preserve  store video.

If you have questions regarding an injury suffered on another’s property, contact the attorneys at Schiller and Hamilton for a A Complimentary Strategy Session.