Fall injuries, mostly slip-and-falls at retail and other public establishments, prompt over eight million emergency room visits a year. That’s the largest single category.
These incidents often cause serious injuries, such as head injuries. These injuries are difficult to diagnose and treat. Many head injury victims say they “feel fine,” because they do not realize the full extent of their wounds. As a result, doctors might not treat these injuries properly. And, brain injury treatment and physical therapy is a long and arduous process.
Because of these issues, a Lexington personal injury attorney should always evaluate your claim. An attorney knows the legal issues involved, as outlined below. Perhaps more importantly, an attorney immediately connects victims with top-quality physicians.
Areas of Responsibility
Location matters a great deal in this context. The location of the grocery store fall usually determines the identity of the defendant. An error at this early point could lead to a costly delay or even the loss of the victim’s legal right to recovery.
Common fall hazards inside grocery stores include wet spots on floors, loose items on the floor, irregular flooring, and badly-placed aisle displays. Typically, the store itself, or rather the holding company which owns the store, is legally responsible for these falls. Independent vendors, such as restaurants, nail salons, or banks, are sometimes inside grocery stores. If a fall happens in such an area, that retailer, and not the grocery store, might be legally responsible.
As outlined below, the retailer usually has a duty of care to keep the area free from known fall hazards.
Other falls occur outside in the parking area. Common hazards include burned-out or missing lights, unreasonably large cracks in the concrete, and icy patches during winter. Typically, the commercial landlord is responsible for maintaining these common areas. The same duty of care and knowledge requirement usually applies.
Sidewalk falls are in a grey area. Largely depending on the terms of the lease, the store is usually responsible for the walkway close to the entrance and exit, as well as the parking area adjacent to the store. The landlord is generally responsible for other walkways in the common area, as well as most of the parking lot.
In terms of legal responsibility, Kentucky law divides victims into three categories, which are based on a common law classification system:
- Invitees (permission to be on the land and benefit to the owner),
- Licensees (permission but no benefit), and
- Trespassers (no permission and no benefit).
Most grocery store visitors are invitees. An “open for business” sign gives these people permission to be on the land. Shoppers, including window-shoppers, benefit the owner, if nothing else because they represent foot traffic. Vendors and salespeople likewise benefit the owner. The owner’s duty of care is very high in these cases.
Some grocery store visitors are licensees. Children who take shortcuts across the parking lot on the way to and from school are licensees. The owner still has a legal duty in these cases, but the duty is substantially lower.
The owner’s duty is almost nonexistent if the victim was a trespasser. There are some exceptions, such as the attractive nuisance rule. This rule usually protects trespassers like teenage skateboarders. Since skateboarding is dangerous and often occurs at night, these children are often injured. Although the store has a duty of care, it might not be liable for fall damages, as outlined below.
In all these cases, the victim/plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not), that the store or landlord knew about the fall hazard. This evidence can be direct or circumstantial.
Insurance Company Defenses
Some variation of the assumption of the risk defense often comes up in grocery store fall claims. This defense prevents recovery if the victim:
- Voluntarily assumed
- A known risk.
The aforementioned skateboarders are a good example. Kids know, or at least should know, this activity is dangerous. Furthermore, kids almost never wear safety equipment. As a result, if these children fall, they might be responsible for their own injuries.
The open-and-obvious rule, which often comes up in indoor fall claims, is another example. Defendants are not liable for fall injuries if the hazard was an open and obvious one.
This rule is quite complex, from a legal and evidentiary standpoint. Legally, courts vacillate on the definition of “open and obvious,” as well as its effect on the claim. As for the facts, many older adults suffer from vision problems. They might not see hazards which are open and obvious to other people.
Grocery store falls often cause serious injuries. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. Home, virtual, and hospital visits are available.