What Is The Legal Standard In Premises Liability? How Does It Relate To Slip And Fall Or Trip And Fall Injury Cases In Ohio?
Many people believe that if you’re at a business and get hurt, the business is responsible. That’s actually not true. A business is responsible if you suffered a fall that was due to the landowner or property owner’s negligence. If they did not have a dangerous defect existing on their property, then they’re not at fault, which means they don’t have to pay anything. For instance, if you pull into a store parking lot and trip on ice and snow while getting out of your car, the landowner will likely not be held liable. The law in Ohio states that a landowner is not responsible for falls due to natural accumulations of ice and snow. Unfortunately, you can’t recover in that circumstance, even if it is a commercial business’s parking lot.
However, it is always wise to consult a lawyer. A lawyer can help you determine whether there could be liability under certain circumstances. For instance, if you fall on ice and snow that was present because of an unnatural accumulation, that could be a basis for liability. If you get out of your car and step onto the sidewalk where there is water dripping and freezing from a faulty pipe, and you step onto that ice and fall, the property owner could be held responsible. The law states “natural accumulation.” A defective drainage system creating a patch of ice is not a natural accumulation. That could be negligence. It is important to photograph the premises and talk to a lawyer because it’s not always an obvious answer.
I have had many ice and snow cases. And so, when I investigated those cases, I was able to discover that in fact, there weren’t natural accumulations of ice and snow. As a result, I was able to obtain successful results for my clients. However, I can’t do that if you fall this week and a year from now find out that the landowner won’t pay, and you now want to pursue a claim. Is the evidence gone? Can I still do an investigation? Are there photographs of that area on that day?
- What Is Contributory Negligence In Ohio? Does That Factor Into Slip And Fall Or Trip And Fall Cases At All?
Recently, I had a case in which a client fell in the parking lot of a store due to an accumulation of ice from a poor drain. The store fixed it a week later. Luckily, my client’s family took some pictures that day of the area where the poor drainage was creating ice. With the pictures on hand, I could show how it was at the time of the fall since the defect was gone. In that case, the defect was the cause of the fall that created the ice.
In another case, there was a big hole at the edge of a carport in a rental unit. The hole accumulated water, which later froze. My client did not live there, but had called the owner of the property that managed this large rental facility to make a claim because they fell on ice. The owner said that they couldn’t recover under that circumstance. The client called me, and soon enough, I went to look at the property. I realized that there was a big hole and they had failed to repair it. The hole itself was the problem. That’s what created the ice and snow.
In order for a claim to be valid, you must have a dangerous defect existing on the property and the landowner must have knowledge that the defect exists, but does not take action to remedy it. If the landowner warns someone that the defect exists, or makes safe the defect, then they’re no longer responsible. For example, a woman who owns a sandwich shop has a step that’s dangerous because they’re not standard size. As a result, they have a big sign that says, “Watch your step.” Even though the step itself is dangerous, they’re in compliance since they’re warning the pedestrian of it. The business owner must warn or make safe.
Ohio law says, “You don’t ensure everyone’s safety on the premises. You just have to make things reasonably safe and warn them of any defects.” If a person goes into a store and falls on a spill due to a product, they would have to show that the store owner knew or should have known that the spill or defect existed. Therefore, the store should have warned people about it or made it safe prior to the customer falling on the spill. However, if someone spills a drink as I’m walking down the store aisle and I fall on that drink, there isn’t enough time for the store owner to become aware of that spill and make the area safe even though it’s a dangerous situation.
The question the is: How do you prove how long the store or its employees knew or should have known? That’s another factor that lawyers look for. I had a situation where there was water in front of an ice machine in a store. The store told my client, their customer, that they didn’t know how the water got there, so they were not responsible. In that case, I did an inspection of the store and noticed that the ice machine was five or ten feet from all of the cash registers. There were employees stationed within view of that ice machine at all times. My argument was that they couldn’t say they didn’t know, and that perhaps it was another customer who had come along and created that situation. There were employees standing nearby and it’s visible to all of them. I was able to recover in that instance. I might not have been able to prove that employees absolutely knew, but they should have known if they were trying to keep the premises reasonably safe. At some point, I would expect that the employees were looking around to see if there were any kind of defects. I was able to make a change in the course of my client’s case and recover for them because of my investigation.
It depends on the situation. A lawyer is often equipped to find that out. Sometimes, it requires an expert. I’ve had situations where a premises was constructed in such a way that the design was aesthetically pleasing, but it was not good for pedestrians. In those types of cases, I can get an expert to show that although it is aesthetically pleasing, but it creates a dangerous situation for a pedestrian that walks on there.
There are circumstances in Ohio in which the court allows you to say, “Let’s say a store has an existing defect on the property that looks like it’s visible, but right by that defect, there’s a big display of products that they want the person to look at.” The court may reply with, “Wait a minute! You’re the store owner. You’re the business owner and it is setup to distract the customer. You’re telling them to look at this display. Right next to the display, you have a pathway that they have to navigate through without hitting something.” In one situation, there where sharp shelves. And the store owner was arguing that you could see the shelf if you walked up to it. My response was that they also had a big giant display of items on sale that directed the attention of the customer away from the defect. Consequently, they couldn’t claim that because the defect was visible to the naked eye, they were not responsible. They specifically distracted the customer away from the defect.
In fall cases, there is a doctrine that says, “Open and obvious.” If a defect is open and obvious, the landowner might not be held liable because the obvious nature is itself the warning. For example, if there is a pothole in the parking lot and you get out of the car and fall in the pothole, the landowner can use the defense of open and obvious if the pothole was obvious to the naked eye. They can say that they don’t have to warn you of the pothole because it was open and obvious. Therefore, they can say that they have no duty to warn and are not responsible for the claimant’s fault.
Whether or not something is open and obvious may be debatable. In the example of the display that was obstructing a defect, it might be something that’s obvious in the daylight, but not at night. My argument would be that it may be obvious some of the time, but it’s not obvious all the time, especially when an incident transpired. A lawyer that is experienced in personal injury law and slip and fall cases is equipped to evaluate all of those differences. There are a lot of legal traps in slip and fall cases. As such, those are the cases that really require a consultation with a lawyer prior to talking to the landowner’s insurance company.
For more information on Slip-And-Fall Cases In Ohio, a free no obligation consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (330) 422-8686 today.
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