How Notice Requirements Affect Your Slip and Fall Case
If you get injured in a slip and fall accident on someone else’s property, one of the issues that will likely come into play in any lawsuit or settlement negotiation is the issue of notice.
What Does it Mean to Have Notice in a Slip and Fall Case?
To get compensated for your injuries in a slip and fall case, you usually have to prove that the property owner was negligent. That can mean that the property owner negligently created the condition that caused you to fall, the property owner was negligent in failing to maintain the property, or the property owner knew or should have known of the condition and failed to remedy it or warn people of it.
The idea that the property owner “knew or should have known” of the dangerous condition is the concept of notice – the property owner only has a duty to remedy conditions that the property owner is aware of or should be aware of.
Actual vs. Constructive Notice
There are two types of notice: actual notice and constructive notice. Actual notice is where it can be shown that the property owner knew of the dangerous condition either because they directly observed it or because they were told by someone else about it. Evidence of actual notice in a slip and fall case can include inspection documents that document the condition, a letter written by a tenant or patron that advises of the condition, or previous accident report that shows someone was injured before as a result of the same condition.
If the court finds constructive notice, it means that even though the property owner did not directly observe or was not specifically told about a dangerous condition, they should have been aware of it. This can occur if it can be shown that the condition existed for such a long period of time that the property owner should have discovered it, such as by performing regular maintenance or inspections of the property.
Reasonable Time to Fix or Warn
Proof of notice, by itself, doesn’t automatically secure liability on the property owner in a slip and fall case. In most states, the property owner will be provided a reasonable amount of time to fix the defect or to warn visitors of the dangerous condition.
So, for example, if a customer spills water on the floor in a supermarket and you slip on the water immediately after the supermarket manager is told of the spill, you may have a difficult time proving that the store had sufficient time to clean it up or to warn customers to stay away from the area (such as placing a warning sign in the aisle). The question of reasonableness will usually be a question for the jury to resolve.
Who Owns the Property?
Believe it or not, who the property owner is in a slip and fall case may affect both notice and your ability to collect for your injuries. For example, if the property owner is a municipality, there may be additional requirements to prove notice.
Many municipalities have special laws requiring that the municipality must receive written notice of a defective condition a certain amount of time before the accident occurs in order to be found liable for injuries sustained on the property.
For example, if you slip and fall as a result of a raised sidewalk in a public park owned by your town, you may not be able to recover from the town for your injuries unless you can show that the town had notice – in writing – of the defect at least a certain number of days before your accident occurred. This becomes even more complicated because in many towns, villages and cities, the prior notice requirement also includes a provision that a specific individual or department within that municipality must be notified of the defect in order for liability to attach. Even a written letter to the town complaining about the sidewalk before your accident might not suffice as notice if it was written to the wrong department.
Each state or local municipality has its own rules governing liability for slip and fall accidents, and many of these rules also require you to advise the municipality within a very short period of time after your injury of your intention to make a claim or bring a lawsuit. Filing a lawsuit or claim after that time has expired may result in an automatic dismissal. That is why it is imperative for you to seek the advice of an attorney familiar with your state and local personal injury laws as soon as possible after you have been injured in a slip and fall accident.
If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident, post a summary of your case on our site to find a qualified personal injury lawyer in your state.
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