Slip and fall cases fall under the general negligence category of premises liability. So, a discussion of personal injury claims involving slips, trips and falls begins with a general discussion of premises liability. Ohio law defines the duty of care owed by a property owner to a person entering their property by the status of the person entering the premises. For instance, a property owner owes less of a duty to a trespasser than to someone who is invited onto the premises. The duty of care can be further defined by special relationships, such as landlord-tenant, general contractor rules, and the so-called “common carrier” rule which applies to property owners who maintain elevators and escalators. Like everything in the law, there are rules and exceptions in the field of premises liability.
Premises liability claims stem from a property owner’s duty to keep their property in a safe condition, free from hazards and defects that might cause injury. The duty of care increases with the level of danger that is presented. For example, a simple “keep off the grass” sign may be inadequate to protect passers-by from injury caused by an on-premise blasting operation. In that circumstance, the landowner should put up tall fencing and provide a specific warning such as “Danger – Explosives.”
Premises liability claims encompass many types of situations where a person is injured or wrongful death occurs while on another’s property: drowning, electrocution, explosion, fire-related injuries (e.g., burns and smoke inhalation), child endangerment and molestation, violent criminal acts by third parties, work-related injury, injuries occurring during recreational activities, injuries related to animals (e.g., dog bites and loose livestock), injuries related to structural collapse, carbon monoxide poisoning, food poisoning, injury from non-motor vehicle power equipment (e.g., drones, lawn mowers, hayrides), and of course slips, trips and falls.
To prove premises liability, the injured person must prove either that the premises owner knew about a hazardous condition on his/her premises or that they created the hazardous condition. In the law, we call this “notice.” The plaintiff has to prove that the landowner was on notice about a danger existing on his/her property.
For slip and fall cases, there is an important defense available to property owners called the “open and obvious” rule. Basically, the open and obvious rule holds that if a hazard is open and obvious to the injury victim, the injury victim must take steps to protect themselves and cannot hold the landowner responsible for injury caused by the hazard. So, for example, if someone walks into an open manhole and sustains injury, they cannot recover because the opening was open and obvious. There is one exception to the open and obvious rule: If an individual is reasonably distracted and does not notice an obvious hazard, they may still be able to hold the premises owner liable.
As winter approaches, you should be aware that land owners in Ohio are not held liable for injuries that happen as a result of natural accumulations of ice and snow. These are considered to be open and obvious. Therefore, you cannot hold someone liable for failing to shovel or salt their walkable surfaces. However, if a property contains an “unnatural accumulation” of ice or snow, the premises owner may still be held liable, assuming the defect is not open and obvious. The classic example of this is a broken eave spout that directs water onto a walkway where it freezes and forms black ice.
As an experienced personal injury lawyer, I can tell you that premises liability cases are very fact specific and require a careful examination of all circumstances surrounding the injury to determine if the property owner can be held liable. Obtaining same-day photographs, video surveillance tapes and witness statements, as well as maintenance records, can be the key to winning your lawsuit.