Many people believe that if they slip and fall on someone else’s property, especially if that someone else is a business, that the property owner or business is liable for their damages. That is, the owner or business must pay their medical bills, reimburse them for their lost wages, and compensate them for their pain and suffering. That simply is not, nor has it ever been, true.
In any lawsuit brought to recover for personal injuries whether arising out of an automobile accident, a botched surgery, or a slip and fall in a store, in order for a plaintiff to be successful, he or she must establish that the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care, the defendant breached that duty, and an injury proximately resulted from that breach.
A store owner, including its employees, has a duty to exercise ordinary care to maintain its property in a reasonably safe condition.
When the customer/plaintiff slips and falls on a foreign substance, the business breaches its duty to the customer if:
(1) the substance was placed there by negligence of the store owner; or
(2) the owner knew of its presence; or
(3) the substance was there a sufficient length of time so that, in the exercise of ordinary care, its presence would have been discovered.
Store owners don’t usually place foreign substances on their floors. If a foreign substance is spotted on a floor, all stores require employees to immediately clean the floor or to guard the area until someone can clean it up. Therefore, most of the time, the case turns on whether the plaintiff can show that the substance was on the floor long enough so that the store should have known about it.
How long must the substance be on the floor before it is presumed, or can be argued, that the store knew of it? There is no specific time in terms of minutes as it would depend on the type of store. For example, in a grocery store, where it would not be unusual for a piece of produce, for example, a grape, to fall on the floor, the grocery store is expected to check its floors more often then say a clothing store.
But without a witness to testify that he saw the substance on the floor and saw employees in the area, it can be difficult to successfully prosecute a slip and fall case.
What to take away from all of this: watch where you are walking.