Common Defenses in Slip and Fall Lawsuits

October 17, 2019

In Pennsylvania, and elsewhere, slip and fall injury claims come under the umbrella of premises liability, which gives those who sustain injuries on another’s property the opportunity to sue and recover damages if their injury was caused by the defendant’s failure to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition.

Suppose, for example, that you are walking through the defendant’s store, and a defective tile suddenly breaks loose, causing you to slip and fall, injuring yourself.  Given these circumstances, you would very likely be entitled to bring an action against the defendant for damages.

Though you may feel that you have a strong claim, it’s important not to underestimate the defendant in a slip and fall lawsuit.  Pennsylvania law affords slip and fall defendants a number of strategic defenses that can be used to avoid or minimize their liability.  In order to successfully recover damages, you’ll therefore have to understand how to circumvent or otherwise undermine these defenses.

For clarity, let’s explore three of the most commonly encountered defenses in Pennsylvania slip and fall injury lawsuits.

Open and Obvious Condition

All premises liability claims — including slip and fall injury claims — require that the dangerous condition at issue is non-obvious.  In other words, if the dangerous slip and fall condition would be hidden and unobservable by the average person (in similar circumstances to the plaintiff), then liability may attach.  If the defendant can show that you were aware of the dangerous condition, or that it was sufficiently obvious that you should have been aware of the dangerous condition, then you cannot hold them liable for your slip and fall injuries.

For example, imagine that you slip and fall on a liquid spill in a grocery store.  The liquid is grape juice, however, and the floor is bright white.  As such, the hazard was clearly obvious to the average person.  The defendant would likely be able to successfully assert this defense under such circumstances.

Defendant Was Not Aware of the Dangerous Condition

Defendants can be held liable for dangerous slip and fall conditions if you can show that they knew or should have known about such conditions.  Defendants will therefore argue quite aggressively that they did not actually know about the dangerous condition at issue, and that they did not have to know about it, given the circumstances.

This can be a bit confusing, so let’s use a quick example for clarification.

Suppose that you are injured after slipping on a liquid spill at the defendant’s clothing retail store outlet.  The defendant argues that they cannot be held responsible for the slip and fall injury because the dangerous condition — the liquid spill hazard — was not known to them or their employees at the time.  Now, you can argue that the defendant “should have known” about the dangerous condition by conducting an inspection, but the defendant may then argue that given the circumstances (clothing store, reasonably thorough hourly inspections), they did perform their duties adequately.  Depending on how frequent and thorough those floor inspections are, the defendant may be able to avoid liability.

Plaintiff Was Partially Responsible

Pennsylvania applies the doctrine of pure comparative negligence, which is quite friendly to injured plaintiffs — if the plaintiff is partially responsible for their own injuries, then they will still have a right to sue and recover damages, but those damages will be reduced by their own contribution of fault.  So, for example, if you are found 25 percent at fault for your slip and fall injuries, then you will be entitled to recover the remaining 75 percent of your total damages.

Despite the fact that pure comparative negligence is “friendly” to plaintiffs, savvy defendants will use this defense — asserting that you are partially responsible for your injuries — in an effort to minimize their overall liabilities.  Simply put, if the defendant recognizes that they are responsible for your injuries and cannot avoid liability, then they will try to pin at least some of the responsibility on you, too.

If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident in Pennsylvania, then you may be entitled to significant damages as compensation for your losses.  Recovering from your claims can be quite challenging, however, depending on the ability of the defendant to effectively assert various defenses.  Contact a qualified Pennsylvania attorney for further assistance.