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Slip-And-Falls: When Are You Owed Compensation?

We all have seen it at one time or another. A person is casually walking about, minding their own business, unexpectedly slips, and plummets to the floor. Admittedly, slip-and-falls can be very humorous—certainly worth a ten-second clip on a funny home-video television program. Oftentimes, however, we forget just how painful and serious these events can be for the unfortunate victim.

Indeed, slip-and-falls can result in serious, lasting injury. This is why certain legal options exist to hold business owners, landowners, and employers responsible for creating and ensuring safe premises. Two leading options for those injured in a slip-and-fall are a standard negligence action, or an action under Wisconsin’s Safe Place Statute.

In a standard negligence action, an injured person must prove the following elements:

  1. Duty: The person or entity that harmed you (the “Defendant”) had an obligation to protect you from an unreasonable risk of being harmed.

  2. Breach: The Defendant failed to meet that obligation.

  3. Causation: The Defendant’s conduct (or omission) was the actual cause of your harm, and there were no intervening actions from a third-party that would alleviate the Defendant from responsibility.

  4. Damages: The Defendant’s conduct caused you harm.

Negligence lawsuits are oftentimes the best option to recover from being harmed. Nevertheless, sometimes a better option is to seek recovery under the Safe Place Statute.  While appearing functionally identical to a negligence action, an action under the Safe Place Statute has a few important distinctions.

One meaningful distinction is the duty owed to foreseeable plaintiffs. Under a negligence action, a defendant owes a duty to all foreseeable plaintiffs to exercise a standard of care that a prudent person would use under ordinary circumstances. In contrast, under the Safe Place Statute, employers and owners of public buildings or places of employment owe the duty to “construct, repair or maintain such place of employment or public building as to render the same safe.” Wis. Stat. § 101.11(1) (2018). Over the years, litigation under the Safe Place Statute has produced two common categories of violations:

  1. Structural Defects:  Defects caused by faulty construction.

  2. Unsafe Conditions: Unsafe conditions can be broken down further into unsafe conditions associated with the structure, and unsafe conditions unassociated with the structure.

  • An example of an unsafe condition associated with the structure would be when the elevator door opens slightly below the building floor that causes a slight ledge for people to trip over.

  • An example of an unsafe condition unassociated with the structure would be a puddle of liquid on the floor.

These distinctions are important because they effect whether the owner will be liable for your injury.

As for an owner of a public building, he or she may be liable for structural defects and for unsafe conditions associated with the structure. The owner of a public building is liable for injuries resulting from structural defects regardless of whether he or she had knowledge of the defect. [1] However, the owner of a public building is liable for injuries resulting from unsafe conditions associated with the structure only if he or she had actual or constructive knowledge of the defect.[2]

As to an owner of a place of employment, he or she is generally liable to the same extent as an owner of a public building. Unlike an owner of a public building, an owner of a place of employment is also liable for injuries resulting from unsafe conditions unassociated with the structure.[3]  Critically, a slip-and-fall case falls within this category of liability; and means the injured party is limited to recovering from the owner of a place of employment.

You may be asking: “what does all this information mean?” It means this: you have options to recover for your harm or loss. The Safe Place Statute places a heightened burden on building and business owners to use a slightly greater amount of care in protecting people from harm than would be required of an average person. When the standard of care is heightened, it means that identifying a violation may be easier—ultimately increasing your chance of success.

While others may get a good laugh, slip-and-falls are no laughing matter when they happen to you. At Levine Eisberner LLC, we understand that most people may not feel comfortable bringing an action against a company or owner when they were injured in a slip-and-fall. These accidents are embarrassing, and you may even feel bad about holding the business accountable. Please understand, however, that the law is here to protect you. You do not have to pay the costs of someone else’s failure to use reasonable care to keep you safe.

[1] Barry v. Emplrs. Mut. Cas. Co., 2001 WI 101, ¶22, 245 Wis. 2d 560, 570, 630 N.W.2d 517, 522

[2] Id. at ¶32.


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