Tripping Hazards and Your Rights
A close cousin to the classic slip and fall accident is the "trip and fall". Fall hazards are not limited to slippery walking surfaces but also include tripping hazards, such as debris and even merchandise on the floor of a store. Property owners and those who run any business in which the public is invited have a duty to protect their patrons from hazards that may cause a fall.
The Law In California
Under California law, a property or business owner is under a duty to exercise ordinary care in the management of their property in order to avoid exposing persons to an unreasonable risk of harm. A failure to fulfill this duty is negligence. This duty is often referred to as the obligation to use reasonable care to keep the property in a reasonably safe condition. A property or business owner must use reasonable care to discover any unsafe conditions and to repair, replace, or give adequate warning of anything that could be reasonably expected to harm others.
Proof of negligence in maintaining property is often established by circumstantial evidence. For example, if a tripping hazard causes a fall, and the property owner cannot provide proof they regularly inspected the area where the fall occurred, it may be inferred the property owner was negligent. Sometimes the condition itself provides the proof. If a tripping hazard such as an uneven walkway has been in existence for a long period of time (as evidenced by plant growth in a concrete crack), this may be all the proof required.
What to Do When You Fall
If you trip and fall on someone else's property, you should do what you can to protect your rights. Perhaps most importantly, you should document the condition causing the fall. Pictures go a long way to proving a trip and fall case, especially if the photographs capture enough detail. Close up pictures and those taken from a distance can be used to prove the hazard was dangerous and had been present for a sufficient period of time. Property owners are not liable for a hazard unless they knew or should have known (through regular inspections) of its existence.
One thing that should be kept in mind, as it comes up quite frequently, is that businesses DO NOT always have video cameras recording. Even assuming that cameras were in the area and recording when an accident happened, the business owner may record over the incident in the normal course of business. Digital media is often used over and over again, unless an incident is brought to the business owner's attention. Consequently, it is always a good idea to notify the property/business owner when an accident occurs. While this does not guarantee the video (if there is one) will be held, it certainly helps. It would be pretty hard for a business owner to explain how they recorded over an accident after being made aware a fall occurred and someone was hurt.
If you or a loved one is injured in a trip and fall accident, contacting an experienced injury lawyer may be the first step toward recovering compensation for injuries and damages suffered. Attorney Paul W. Ralph has ben practicing in Orange County as an injury attorney for nearly 29 years.