March weather is said to come in like a lion and out like a lamb, and it can produce some precarious situations to navigate. Even when the weather isn't complicating matters, slip and fall cases in Virginia can be difficult to settle. No matter who is at fault, if you find yourself in the midst of a slip and fall dispute, you should consult with an attorney who is experienced in personal injury law.
What is a “slip and fall” case?
In a “slip and fall” case, an injured party stumbles, trips, or slips and gets hurt on someone else's property. Examples of this could include a stumble over an ignored pothole, a fall due to poor lighting, or — especially in this time of year — injury stemming from unattended conditions that can cover a hidden danger.
I've been injured in a fall on someone else's property — what should I do?
If you live in the Commonwealth of Virginia, you have up to two years to file your personal injury lawsuit. Consider the circumstances of your accident — if it happened on government property, there are additional steps you and your lawyer must take to file your suit within six months of the accident. If you're not sure where to start, you can always call Patriots Law Group to schedule a consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer.
Why is “liability” so important in a slip and fall?
Liability is the legal responsibility for one's acts or omissions. In terms of a personal injury lawsuit, liability determines fault based on a wide variety of circumstances. As in many premises liability claims, it can be difficult to reach a settlement in a slip and fall case because of the dispute over who was liable at the time of the injury. It's not enough to simply declare, “It was the landlord's fault!” — liability must be proven in legal terms. The injured party usually has to prove that the injury resulted due to negligence or hazardous behavior.
How do I prove someone was liable? How do I prove I am NOT liable?
In a personal injury lawsuit, the injured party must be able to prove that whatever caused the injury was directly the fault of the property owner. This can be argued by proving that:
- The property owner or their responsible agents knew about the hazard – or should have known about it – but did not fix it before it caused a problem, or
- The hazard came about because of the direct actions of the property owner or their responsible agents, and it was reasonable that this negligent behavior would cause harm in the future. For instance, if a property owner did not salt the sidewalks before a snowstorm that was prominently featured on the news for weeks, the owner could reasonably be held liable for an ice-related injury on the property.
Even if it can be proven that a hazard was the property owner's responsibility to fix, the injured party also needs to demonstrate it could have been dealt with in a reasonable amount of time before the accident occurred.
For example, if a slip and fall injury occurred one hour after a pipe burst in the middle of a snowstorm, it may not be reasonable for the property owner to have had enough time to become aware of the problem, much less fix it. On the other hand, a pothole that was reported to management by four different tenants over the course of six months could reasonably have been dealt with before someone was injured.
The property owner says that the accident was my fault — what happens now?
In many states the attorneys for each party will try to prove who was at fault during settlement negotiations or in court and whoever is found at fault will be liable and thus likely ordered to pay the resulting damages . In Virginia however, the doctrine of contributory negligence is a critical factor in personal injury claims because if an injured party is found to be even partially responsible for causing their injury, then a claim for damages will be precluded. The idea is that if a person contributed to the negligence that caused the injury in the first place, he or she can't recover from someone else even if the other person was also partially culpable.
If you are a Virginia resident involved in a slip and fall dispute, and you think you may be partially at fault for the accident, it's critical to speak with an attorney who can give you advice on your situation. The law of contributory negligence doesn't automatically mean your case isn't worth pursuing, and a lawyer barred in the Commonwealth of Virginia can help you determine how your case may be affected.
I'm a property owner – how can I protect myself from slip and fall liability?
Accidents happen – and if you're a responsible property owner, you shouldn't have to worry about an unfair lawsuit. One of the best things you can do as a property owner is keep track of your safety records. For example, if you take note of every time you notice a potential hazard and deal with it correctly, or keep track of regular maintenance visits and audits, your attorney can use those records to demonstrate you responded reasonably during a potential dispute.
At Patriots Law Group, we understand the frustrations that can accompany personal injury cases, on both sides of the courtroom. Our knowledge, experience, and expertise can help reach an agreeable settlement if you or someone in your family have experienced a slip and fall, or have been named in a slip and fall dispute. We have experience in personal injury cases in Virginia, Maryland, and Washington, DC. Call today to learn more about the ways we can assist you and your family.
DISCLAIMER: The information above is for general informational purposes only. No attorney-client relationship is intended or created by this information. Each individual situation is different and therefore a formal in-person consultation is necessary before any specific advice may be relied upon as appropriate and accurate for a given situation. Please call Patriots Law Group at 301-952-9000 to set up a consultation if you wish to obtain specific legal advice you may rely upon. We serve clients anywhere in the world, with in-person consultations available at our Suitland, MD office — right next to Andrews Air Force Base — for clients in Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C.