One of the more difficult personal injury cases to prove is the “slip and fall” situation. A recent case in Oregon, however, approved a creative argument that may make these cases easier for plaintiffs in some situations.
A convenience store placed a lightweight welcome mat outside its front door. It did nothing to ensure that the mat was secured to the ground. On a windy day, the mat was partially blown off the ground, doubling back on itself. A customer tripped over the mat while leaving the store, breaking her elbow.
Usually, slip and fall cases require proof that the defendant have knowledge that something is on the floor to be slipped on or tripped over, or conditions requiring the defendant to check regularly, and also that the defendant failed to clean up the problem promptly. The customer in this case, however, didn’t argue that the store knew of the problem or should have fixed it. She argued that the store shouldn’t have placed the mat where it was without taking steps to prevent it from blowing off the ground in the first place. This argument hadn’t been tried in Oregon before, but the Court of Appeals agreed with her, noting that courts in Illinois and Texas had agreed with plaintiffs in similar situations. A general rule of Oregon law requiring businesses to keep their premises reasonably safe for customers also suggested that not allowing a problem to develop should be required.
If you slipped or tripped and fell in a situation that you think could have been avoided, you may want to talk to a lawyer. Be ready to describe what you observed so that the question of whether the situation was preventable can be analyzed.
On the other hand, if you run a business, you may want to talk to your lawyer or insurer about reducing the risks of slips and falls. This could be as simple as taping down your doormat or having pipes and vents fixed so that they won’t drip water on the floor. If you think you see a potentially dangerous condition, it may be worth making repairs before someone gets hurt.