Tripping and falling is never a pleasant experience. Even in your younger days, when a fall set your friends to laughing deliriously, you got little enjoyment from it if you were the one taking the tumble. Now that some years have passed, your body may not be able to sustain a pratfall or header like it used to. You may have a recent hospital bill to prove it.
If your accident took place on someone else's property or in a public place like a grocery store or sidewalk, you may be wondering if you have cause to take legal action against the owner of the property, especially if you suffered a serious injury such as a broken bone, back injury or head trauma. However, there are some very specific limitations to premises liability claims, and you may benefit from a general understanding before you take steps to file a lawsuit.
The property owner's responsibility
The first questions a civil court may ask about your premises liability claim involve the knowledge the property owner had concerning the hazard that caused your fall. If the owner knew or should have known that the hazard existed, but he or she did nothing to remedy the situation or to warn you of the danger, you may have grounds for a lawsuit. However, if the property owner kept the premises reasonably safe, you may have a harder battle to fight.
Reasonableness is the measure the court will use. Did the property owner take reasonable safeguards to keep the property safe, and would a visitor taking reasonable precautions have been able to avoid the hazard?
You have responsibilities, too
The court will balance the property owner's precautions with your own reasonable behavior. In fact, you will have to meet the burden of proof that not only was the property owner negligent, but you did not contribute to your own fall. In other words, you will have to demonstrate the following:
- You had a legitimate and legal reason for being on the property.
- There was no way you or any other reasonable person would have noticed or been able to avoid the hazard and the subsequent fall.
- The owner provided no warnings or protections from the hazard.
- You were not behaving in a careless or reckless manner that contributed to your injury.
With this information, if you feel you may have cause to seek redress for your injuries from the owner of the property where you fell, the advice of an attorney may prove beneficial. Because there is a statute of limitations for slip and fall cases in Virginia, you would be wise to seek a consultation at the earliest possible moment.