Legal Aspects of a Slip-and-Fall Claim
In recent years, although medical bills have shot up, the average slip-and-fall settlement has only increased marginally in South Carolina. As insurance companies tighten up on these claims and become even stingier, it’s more important than ever for an attorney to not only build a strong, evidence-based claim, but also to anticipate common insurance company defenses. More on these things below.
Medical bill inflation was low until around 2013. Back then, almost any attorney could handle a slip-and-fall claim. But since the economic dynamics have changed so much, only a top-shelf Columbia slip and fall attorney can obtain maximum compensation in these cases. This compensation usually includes money for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
A slip-and-fall or other premises liability claim is usually based on a duty of care and the owner’s knowledge of the injury-causing hazard. So, a Columbia personal injury attorney must establish both these basic elements by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not).
Duty is more of a legal question than a fact question. South Carolina law assigns different legal responsibilities in different situations, as follows:
- Invitee: Owners “invite” most guests, either directly or indirectly. Furthermore, when these guests arrive, they benefit the owner, either financially or non financially. Because of the close relationship, the owner usually has a duty of care to maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition. This responsibility includes removing injury hazards.
- Licensee: We’re not sure where this term came from, but it refers to people with permission to be on the property but who don’t benefit the owner. A guest of a hospital patient is usually a licensee. Since the relationship isn’t as close, owners only have a duty to warn licensees about latent (hidden) defects.
- Trespasser: This pejorative term simply means no permission and no benefit. These two “nos” usually mean the owner has no duty of care, other than a duty to refrain from intentionally harming a licensee. A few exceptions, like the attractive nuisance rule, might protect a few child trespassers in a few situations.
As for knowledge, direct evidence of actual knowledge usually makes a case stronger. Such proof includes floor maintenance sweeps and “cleanup on aisle two” announcements in retail stores.
Circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known) is also admissible in most cases. Usually, owners cannot turn a blind eye to injury hazards and claim they didn’t know about them.
Comparative fault, in one form or another, is usually the most common insurance company defense in slip-and-fall claims.
Pure comparative fault simply shifts the blame for an injury from the tortfeasor (negligent owner) to the victim. To refute this defense, attorneys usually prove that the hazard was difficult to see, like a patch of black ice on an outdoor walkway or a clear liquid on an inside floor.
Assumption of the risk, a form of comparative fault, is a failure to heed a “Caution Wet Floor” or other warning sign. A sign doesn’t guarantee immunity. The insurance company must also prove the victim saw the sign, could read the sign, and could understand what the sign meant.
In both cases, jurors must divide fault on a percentage basis, based on the evidence presented. Then, the court usually reduces the victim’s compensation in proportion to his/her fault.
Count On a Diligent Richland County Lawyer
Injury victims are entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Columbia, contact the Marc Brown Law Firm. Attorneys can connect victims with doctors, even if they have no insurance or money.