Property Owners Must Fix Tripping Hazards As Soon As Possible
Jun 22, 2018 - Premises Liability
If you have been injured in a trip-and-fall or slip-and-fall accident in Pennsylvania, you may be entitled to damages pursuant to a premises liability claim. Premises liability claims are not as straightforward as they might initially appear, however. Even in cases where the court may agree that there was a hazard on the property, and that the defendant had a duty to correct the hazard, there may be issues involving “timeliness” that could influence liability (and thus, your recovery).
Let’s begin with some of the basics.
Basic Elements of Premises Liability
In Pennsylvania, and throughout the country, those who possess property have a duty to ensure that the property is maintained in a reasonably safe condition. This requires that:
- The defendant (possessor of property) know about hazards on the property; and
- The defendant failed to repair the hazard, or warn visitors about its existence (i.e., through signs or other warnings).
In many premises liability cases, the issue of what constitutes a “hazard” lies at the heart of litigation. Generally speaking, anything which exposes visitors to an unreasonable risk of harm will be considered a hazard.
It’s also worth noting that not all hazards will be known to the defendant. Lack of knowledge does not shield the defendant from liability, however. If the defendant “should have known” about the existence of the hazard at-issue, then they could still be found liable for failing to correct the hazard (or warn others about it).
Timeliness is a challenging concept in premises liability, as it criss-crosses a number of different principles.
Defendants have a responsibility to inspect their property with reasonable frequency so as to discover defects and hazards early enough to correct them (or to warn others).
Defendants must take action with a reasonable time period, before visitors are exposed to the risk of harm.
Timeliness can spell the difference between the defendant being liable and non-liable — but it is not an absolute concept. Whether the defendant acted in a timely manner is dependent on the circumstances, and a number of factors exert considerable influence: industry standards, volume of customers, obviousness of the hazard, etc.
For example, suppose that you are injured in a trip-and-fall accident on the entrance stairs at the defendant’s retail store. Further investigation reveals that the stairs were chipped and uneven, and that this presented a serious risk of injury to visitors. Given the location of the hazard (the entrance!), the likelihood that visitors would come upon the hazard, and the obviousness of the damage, the defendant’s liability seems clear.
What if the chipping damage was caused just five minutes prior to the trip-and-fall injury?
At that point, the case becomes quite a bit more complicated. It would be unreasonable to impose an inspection duty on the defendant that required them to inspect their premises every five minutes. The frequency of “reasonable” inspections will vary depending on the industry, too. In a retail space, expert testimony may reveal that a “once an hour” frequency is sufficient. If the facts reveal that your injury was caused by a hazard that was created between inspections, then the defendant cannot be held liable, unless they somehow knew about the hazard and failed to correct it.
Contact Our Team of Allentown Trip and Fall Lawyers for Assistance
Drake Hileman & Davis, PC is a personal injury firm that has served injured plaintiffs throughout the state of Pennsylvania for over 33 years, in a variety of litigation, including slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall cases. Our attorneys are committed to personalized legal representation — we understand that the prospect of extensive and difficult-to-understand litigation can be overwhelming, and even off-putting to busy clients. As such, we keep clients “in the loop” at every phase of litigation, helping them make informed decisions about their case as it moves forward.
This client-first approach has earned us a great deal of success in personal injury litigation. We have secured numerous verdicts and settlements on behalf of our clients.
Call (888) 777-7098 today to schedule a free and confidential consultation with the experienced Allentown trip and fall lawyers here at Drake Hileman & Davis, PC.