Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Who Pays in a Slip and Fall Accident?

When you take a fall on a wet floor or a patch of ice, it can cause serious injury and cost quite a bit in medical expenses, lost wages, and other damages. Where can you turn to be compensated for those injuries? Who pays in a slip and fall accident?

A slip and fall accident is perhaps the most common type of premises liability lawsuit. It applies when a property owner fails to take reasonable care to protect the injured person from danger and an injury occurs. They most often happen in the winter when icy parking lots and slippery snow-melt turn everyday trips to the store into obstacle courses. 

Of course, not every spill on the ice will turn into a lawsuit. Many premises liability claims fail when a defendant demonstrates that the hazard was “open and obvious”. But when the situation creates an unreasonably dangerous situation or when the hazard is unavoidable, slip and fall cases can be won. The question is, who pays for those damages?

Property Owners as Premises Liability Defendants

The primary defendant in any slip and fall accident case is the person or entity in possession and control of the property. Note this is not automatically the owner of the property. A business owner renting her retail space from a commercial landlord is likely the one in possession and control of the property. The landlord usually will not be sued unless the danger was the result of something the landlord failed to repair or maintain. This can also get complicated when a home is being sold. Michigan courts have held that the real estate agent was in control of a home during an open house. 

Maintenance Contractors Can Be Brought into Slip and Fall Accidents

The person or entity in possession of the property is probably the one the injured party will sue. But that entity isn’t necessarily the one who will pay for the slip and fall accident. Take the recent unpublished case Graves v Kmart Corp, for example. Graves sued Kmart after he fell on ice in the store parking lot. He said the ice had accumulated because of the store’s defective gutter system. Then Kmart brought in Menowitz Management Corporation, SPG Property Services, Inc (a snow removal company), Top Caliber Lawn & Lanscape, LLC, and CEI Roofing Systems, Inc. 

Kmart said that these maintenance companies were responsible to pay for the slip and fall accident because they were hired to address and remove those dangerous hazards. SPG’s contract for snow removal said it would pay for any claims against Kmart related to its negligence or breach of contract. The court ultimately found that the risk was open and obvious, and not related to anything SPG did wrong. 

Property & Casualty Insurance Behind the Scenes

Most businesses in Michigan maintains property and casualty insurance that pays for injuries that happen on the business’s property. Similarly, when an injury happens at home, the homeowner’s home insurance or umbrella coverage will probably apply. When an injured party sues for a slip and fall accident, they will never name the insurance company in the lawsuit. But as the case progresses, settlement offers to resolve the case will usually relate to the amount of insurance the business has to cover the expenses.

Unlike no-fault insurance, P&C policies cover up to a certain policy limit. There are exclusions and exceptions built in to most policies, as well. The success of a premises liability settlement often has to do with the availability of insurance benefits to cover the damages.

Slip and fall accidents are not easy cases to win in Michigan. Because of the climate, Michigan winters involve a lot of snow and ice, and the slippery floors that go with them. That has led Michigan courts to see these dangers as part of everyday life and limit when a plaintiff can recover. But when a case can be made, it is usually the homeowners’ or business’s insurance that ends up paying the bill.

Dani K. Liblang is a personal injury attorney at The Liblang Law Firm, PC, in Birmingham, Michigan. If you have been seriously injured in a slip and fall accident, contact The Liblang Law Firm, PC, for a consultation.

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