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What If I Slip and Fall at a Business And Get Hurt?

Television shows, movies, and Saturday morning cartoons are full of funny scenes where someone slips and falls down. While we all get a good laugh from the comedy, reality is often much more serious. Falls are the number one cause of both fatal and non-fatal injuries for older people. But younger people are at risk, too. According to the National Floor Safety Institute (NFSI), falls result in more than eight million visits to hospital emergency rooms (only 1.8 million of those involve patients that are more than 65 years old). In fact, falls represent the top cause for visits to the emergency room.

Falls can be caused by flooring materials; floor construction; foreign substances on the floor; obstructions where people need to walk; and other dangerous conditions which could have been prevented. People are sometimes surprised by the severity of the resulting injuries. For example, falls can result in bone fractures, dislocations, and head injuries. And these falls can happen anywhere – at home; at work; or at the commercial establishments that we visit. So, what happens when a customer falls down and gets hurt while visiting a business?

Understanding Oregon Premises Liability Law

The law that governs slip and fall cases is called premises liability law. These rules are used to determine when the negligent or intentional acts of property owners (or possessors of the property) make them responsible for a victim’s injuries or death. When a visitor falls and is injured on another person’s property, the first step is to determine the legal status of the visitor – invitee, licensee, or trespasser. This classification is important because it determines the degree of care owed to the visitor.

Each classification is discussed below. For purposes of simplicity, in the remainder of this article we’ll refer to the person in charge of the property, who may ultimately be liable, as the “owner.” In practice, sometimes a person other than the owner, who possesses or controls the property, may actually be the responsible party. It’s important to consult with your lawyer to resolve this issue.

  • Invitee – an invitee is generally a person who is “invited” onto the premises to conduct business. Examples include restaurants, bars, retail stores, and offices one might visit to conduct business. Property owners owe the highest degree of care to this class of visitors. This makes sense because the property owner stands to profit from the business dealings with the invitee.
  • Licensee – A licensee is a person who is on the premises with permission, but they are not there to conduct business that benefits the owner. A common example is a friend who is invited over to socialize.
  • Trespasser – A trespasser is a person who is on the property without permission. The owner owes no duty of care to a trespasser. However, an owner cannot intentionally create a hazard for a trespasser. For example, an owner cannot set a trap designed to harm a trespasser.

Standard of Care Owed to an Invitee

In this discussion, we are examining the liability of a business owner to a customer. Therefore, the injured customer possesses the status of invitee. Under Oregon law, the owner of the property must protect the invitee from dangers the owner knows about (or should know about) and must warn the invitee of latent dangers. In some cases, the analysis of the foreseeability of a risk and duty can be more complicated, but for now we will only consider general principles. If the owner breaches the duty imposed by law, which causes harm to the invitee, the owner is liable for the injuries caused. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

  • A restaurant owner knows a child has thrown food all over the floor, but fails to clean it up. A patron steps on the substance, slips and falls.
  • A grocery market knows that there is a puddle of water by the door, but doesn’t clean it up in a reasonable amount of time. A customer slips and falls.
  • A department store places a shelf in a dangerous location, which causes a customer to trip and fall.

These are just a few examples of the myriad circumstances under which a business invitee could be liable for injuries caused to a patron.

Call with Questions

If you have slipped or tripped and fallen and suffered injury, please call us with your questions. We can help you analyze your claim and determine exactly what steps you should take next. It’s only by holding everyone in society accountable for their wrongful actions that we can all be safer. The experienced premises liability attorneys at Nelson MacNeil Rayfield are happy to help.