THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF SLIP 'N FALL - WATCH OUT!

THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF SLIP 'N FALL --- WATCH OUT!

By: Frances Knox

In North Carolina, when you are in a grocery store, department store, or other public place, you are considered a visitor or "invitee" of the property owner. The owner of the property has a duty to protect you from being injured while on the property --- from slipping on a wet floor, from falling on ice in the parking lot, or from falling due to dangerous steps into and out of the building.

The business owner is responsible for keeping all areas in a reasonably safe condition. The manager and employees are responsible for regularly inspecting the store during the business day and for warning the customers of any found dangers. When you are in such a public place, nothing should divert or distract your attention from dangers around you. You must always look where you are going.

If you have fallen in a public place, there are several things you need to do before you leave the store:

  • Ask if anyone else saw you fall or saw the substance or object which caused your fall.

  • Make sure you obtain the names, addresses and telephone numbers of any witnesses.

  • The manager or supervisor of the store must complete an Incident Report providing the details of your fall and resulting injury. You should receive a copy.

  • Obtain the manager's approval for your medical treatment at the closest emergency medical department.

  • Take with you the manager's or supervisor's business card so that you will have contact information readily available.

  • Take pictures of your injuries and continue to document them.

  • Take pictures of the area in the store where you were injured.

  • Keep any shopping receipts from the time.

Now that you know these steps, the slippery slope part of this article needs review. These are the most difficult cases to win in our State. The person injured must establish "constructive notice or actual notice" of the instrumentality that caused your fall. North Carolina cases hold that the merchant must have a duty to the customer, have known the problem (or substance) existed, failed to take corrective measures to protect shoppers and that the store owner created the condition causing injury. For example, if a grape is on the floor in the produce aisle, the merchant is not responsible for your injuries unless they knew it was there and didn't clean the aisles or if they failed to properly monitor their aisles in a business-like manner. The injured party in our state bears the burden of showing that a dangerous condition existed for such a period of time that the merchant, through the exercise of reasonable care, should have known of its existence.

It is crucial for the injured person's attorney to quickly retrieve video surveillance or merchant logs (for times aisles were cleaned.) The key issue in these cases is "did the merchant know or should have known" of the danger. Merchants must exercise ordinary care to keep their premises in a reasonably safe condition.

It is crucial to make sure you protect yourself. Under laws of contributory negligence, you must make sure you wear the appropriate shoes and clothing for the areas you are visiting. If you wear corrective lens, you should have them on. You have a duty to "look where you are walking" and not be distracted by items around you. If the floor or entrance areas are wet with rain or snow, you, as the customer, should be alerted to a potential hazard and act accordingly.

Taking these steps will safeguard you in the event you are injured. These types of injuries can be a "slippery slope" if handled on your own, as the property owner will strongly defend his actions and his employees' actions and seek to hold you accountable.

If you have been injured as the result of a slip and fall incident on another's property, call the Knox Law Center in Charlotte at 704-315-2363 or 866-704-9059 (Toll free). Be sure to visit our web site at www.knoxlawcenter.com for other articles featured in this paper.

Frances Knox is an attorney with Knox Law Center. Her email address is fknox@knoxlawcenter.com.