Personal injury law includes many different type of cases. While auto accidents are the most common, premises liability cases — including situations involving injuries from an accident at business premises — also happen fairly often. Slip-and-fall injuries, sometimes called trip-and-fall injuries, are a prevalent type of premises liability case. In Virginia, cases involving a slip and fall are hard to win, because of the specific legal rules that apply to proving a case.
Legal Elements of a Slip-and-Fall Case
To succeed with a claim in a slip-and-fall lawsuit, whether by getting a settlement or court verdict, the injured victim, through his or her legal counsel, must demonstrate a number of essential components, including that:
- The business owner or operator was negligent in allowing the condition that caused the accident to exist;
- The condition on the premises actually caused the injury;
- The injured victim did not contribute to the accident in any way;
- The lawsuit was filed within the time limitation imposed by law.
Satisfying all these requirements in any case is difficult, but it is not impossible. Not long ago, The Jeff Brooke Team won a $750,000 settlement in a slip-and-fall accident that occurred at a Newport News restaurant.
Liability of the Business Owner / Operator
A business owner (or operator) is legally responsible for injuries from a slip-and-fall accident on the business premises only if the owner was negligent with regard to the condition that caused the accident. Generally, that means either the owner caused or was aware of the condition and did nothing about it or — more often — that the owner/operator should have known about the condition. The standard that is applied is whether a reasonable person exercising ordinary care would have been aware of the condition and fixed it or warned about it.
All business owners are required to maintain their premises in reasonably safe condition and warn of hidden dangers. That does not mean that the safety of every visitor is guaranteed. Proving negligence on the part of the business owner in a slip-and-fall case requires demonstrating facts that show a lack of reasonable care in maintaining safe premises. The facts and circumstances of every case are different. A critical component of building a case usually includes gathering eyewitness and employee testimony and may also involve consulting experts and examining business records in some cases.
Proving Causation in a Slip-and-Fall Case
Even if the circumstances support a finding that the business owner was negligent regarding the condition, a key element of the case is proving that the condition actually caused the injury. Establishing causation involves showing exactly how the accident happened. As with proving negligence, factual evidence is important in proving causation. Testimony from witnesses and employees, as well as business records, can be relevant to causation. Sometimes having an expert inspect and analyze the condition is also necessary.
Part of establishing causation in a slip-and-fall case is showing that the injured victim did not contribute to his or her own accident. In negligence cases, Virginia applies the legal standard of contributory negligence, which means that if a victim shares responsibility for causing the accident, no damages can be recovered. An injured victim can be responsible in a number of different ways, including:
- Wearing footwear that is inappropriate or unsafe for the circumstances;
- Ignoring an obviously dangerous condition;
- Going onto part of the premises that is not open for visitors;
- Failing to pay attention, such as texting on or using a cell phone while walking.
Whether causation and lack of contributory negligence can be proven depends entirely on the facts and circumstances in each individual case. Only an experienced personal injury attorney can evaluate a situation to determine whether these elements can be satisfied.
Statute of Limitations in a Slip-and-Fall Case
Like most states, Virginia has a statutory limit on the amount of time an injured victim has to file a lawsuit. For slip-and-fall injuries, the time is two years from the date of the accident. If a lawsuit is not filed within that time, the victim will not be able to proceed in court in an action to recover for injuries.
Even though there are two years within which a case can be filed, consulting with a knowledgeable slip-and-fall attorney at the earliest possible time is very important. Gathering necessary evidence and witness testimony can become much more difficult as time passes.
When Should You Consult a Virginia Personal Injury Attorney About Slip-and-Fall Injuries?
Recovering damages in a slip-and-fall case in Virginia is hard for several reasons. In addition to satisfying all the legal requirements, gathering evidence in a case is difficult and time-consuming and can be costly, especially if it becomes necessary to retain experts to examine the condition and cause of the accident. While the injured victim may not have to pay those expenses, since many attorneys take premises liability cases on a contingent fee basis and may cover expenses, undertaking a slip-and-fall case is a significant decision for any personal injury attorney. The attorney will conduct a thorough preliminary assessment of the case, including reviewing all of the elements that would have to be proven if a lawsuit is filed, before recommending whether a claim or lawsuit should be pursued.
The extent of injuries will be an additional factor in determining whether filing a lawsuit is worthwhile. If the victim’s injuries are relatively minor and expenses were covered by health insurance, a lawsuit may not be warranted. If, however, the victim has serious injuries, requires long-term treatment, suffers permanent disability or limitations, or missed work or is unable to work, the extent of the injuries may justify filing a lawsuit if all the other elements of a premises liability case are present.
While winning a slip-and-fall case in Virginia is hard, it definitely is not impossible. If you or a loved one suffered serious injuries in a premises accident, talking with an experienced personal injury attorney is advisable. If you are considering filing a claim with the insurance company of the business, it’s always best to consult with a lawyer before you file the claim and before you talk with any insurance company representatives.
Talk With a Virginia Beach Slip-and-Fall / Premises Liability Attorney
Experienced, respected Virginia Beach personal injury attorney Jeff Brooke knows how to recover damages for slip-and-fall accident victims. The Jeff Brooke Team has successfully helped premises accident victims recover financial reimbursement from the business where the injuries occurred. Contact us by phone at (757) 552-6055 or by using our online contact form. Do not hesitate to contact us if you’re hospitalized or confined at home — we will meet with you at home or in the hospital.
Jeff Brooke is a personal injury attorney devoted to helping individuals who have suffered serious and catastrophic injuries or lost a loved one as a result of someone else’s negligent and careless actions. The Jeff Brooke Team serves all of southeastern Virginia. The firm helps clients in the Greater Tidewater and Greater Hampton Roads areas, including in Virginia Beach, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Chesapeake, and Chesterfield. The Jeff Brooke Team also handles cases in northeastern North Carolina, including the Outer Banks.