Slip and fall incidents can cause serious injuries. It is not uncommon for people to trip over an obstacle or lose their footing on a slippery surface and suffer broken bones, dislocated joints or even head injuries.
Unfortunately, it can sometimes be quite challenging to prove liability, even for highly experienced Milwaukee slip and fall lawyers. This is because it is not enough to simply show that the plaintiff was injured as a result of a hazardous condition. Rather, the plaintiff must show that the defendant knew - or at the very least, should have known - of the hazardous condition, but failed to take steps to correct it.
Wisconsin law provides two different avenues to recovery for people injured in slip and fall incidents: they can either make a claim under common-law theories of negligence or they can pursue a claim based on a violation of Wisconsin's Safe Place Law.
Wisconsin Common Law Negligence
Every person in Wisconsin has a legal duty to act with reasonable care towards others. In a slip and fall case, this means that property owners and possessors have a duty to ensure that their premises are not unreasonably dangerous.
To prevail on a theory of negligence, injured plaintiffs must first show that their injuries were caused by a dangerous condition. A "dangerous condition" is a hazard that presents an unreasonable amount of risk but cannot be readily anticipated by visitors to the property.
Then, plaintiffs must prove that the property owner or possessor had knowledge of the dangerous condition. This can be done in one of two ways. Owners or possessors have "actual knowledge" when they have created the dangerous condition, observed it or been informed of its existence. They have "constructive knowledge" when the hazard has existed for so long that a reasonable person should have noticed it.
Plaintiffs who allege liability based on constructive knowledge are usually required to provide evidence showing how long the dangerous condition existed before the accident occurred. It is important to note, however, that the notice requirement does not apply in several circumstances. For example, if a store arranges its merchandise in a way which results in a hazard for its customers, there is no notice requirement because the store created the hazardous condition.
Finally, plaintiffs must show that - despite this knowledge - the owner or possessor did not take adequate steps to either fix the hazard or warn people of its existence.
Wisconsin Safe Place Law
Wisconsin's Safe Place Law imposes a higher standard of care than a traditional negligence claim. It requires every employer and every owner of a public building to ensure their property is as safe as its nature would reasonably permit, both for employees and for those who frequent the premises.
Unlike negligence law, which simply requires that the property be free from known dangerous conditions, the Safe Place Law requires employers and property owners to do everything "reasonably necessary to protect the life, health, safety or welfare of such employees and frequenters."
However, this doesn't mean that employers or owners must take every possible safety precaution. Rather, they are required to provide a reasonable level of safety considering the nature of the business and the manner in which it is conducted.
Just as in negligence-based lawsuits, a claim under the Safe Place Law requires a showing that the employer or owner had either actual or constructive knowledge of the unsafe condition.
It is important to note that the Safe Place Law does not apply to private property that is not used as a place of employment. For example, a person who was injured in a neighbor's home would likely not be able to make a claim under the Safe Place Law.
Duty of Reasonable Caution
A common defense strategy in slip and fall cases is to argue that the injured person should have noticed the dangerous condition and made an attempt to avoid it. Indeed, people visiting another person's property have a duty to be reasonably observant. Property owners and possessors will usually not be held liable for injuries caused by "open and obvious" dangers.
Similarly, plaintiffs often won't be able to recover if the defense can prove the plaintiff knew of a way to avoid the hazard - for example, by taking an alternate path - but chose not to use it.
What to Do After a Slip and Fall Incident
After a slip and fall incident, it is important to act quickly to preserve evidence. However, you must also be careful not to say or do things that will prejudice your claim.
Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind if you are injured in a slip and fall incident on someone else's property:
- Document the hazard: If you have a camera handy - a camera phone is fine - take pictures of the area where you fell. If you don't have access to a camera, take notes and draw diagrams of the scene. The evidence won't be as persuasive, but at least it will help you remember facts that may become important later.
- Make a list of witnesses: Write down the names and contact information of anybody who observed your fall or came to your aid. If you talked to anybody connected with the property - like an owner, employee or property manager - make notes of what they said. These statements could become valuable evidence later on.
- Report your fall: Tell someone connected with the property that you have been hurt and explain the hazard. You don't want someone else to suffer the same fate you did.
- See a doctor: It is just as important to document evidence of the injury as it is to document evidence of the hazard. Make sure to comply with the treatment plan your doctor gives you and to schedule periodic follow-up appointments if your symptoms do not improve.
- Call a lawyer: If your doctor confirms that you have suffered a significant injury, contact a Milwaukee slip and fall attorney who can review the accident and help you understand whether or not you have a case.
- Mind your words and actions: Be careful who you talk to and what you do after an accident, since this could eventually be used as evidence against you. Don't give a statement to the property's insurer until you have talked to a lawyer.
Proving liability in a slip and fall case can be hard, but it is by no means impossible. If you have been injured by a dangerous condition on someone else's property, contact an experienced Milwaukee personal injury attorney who can evaluate your case and explain your options.