In a slip and fall trial, the judge, or jury will consider whether the owner or person responsible for the property was taking reasonable steps to keep it safe. However, the question always remains as to what should be considered reasonable. In determining reasonableness, the law will focus on the regularity and amount of effort put in, to keep the property safe. In order to determine whether the steps taken were reasonable, the following inquiries can be made:
- Did the dangerous hazard or spot exist long enough for the owner to have known about its existence? For instance, how long was the owner aware about the bulging, torn, or broken area in the carpet or floor, or the existence of any slippery substance on the floor before the accident?
- Can the owner prove that the property was maintained on a regular basis? For example, does the owner have a regular system for checking, repairing, and cleaning the property?
- Was there a legitimate reason for an object to be there, on which the person tripped and fell? Was it the proper place to store the object, or was the object placed in the right location during some operation?
- Could the storage of the object been in a better place that could avoid a person tripping over it? Could the object been placed in a manner that was much safer?
- Could the owner have created a barrier at the place of hazard, to prevent people from coming into contact with the place? Did the owner put up a warning sign that could have prevented people from slipping in that area?
- Was the lighting sufficient in the area to see properly? Were the lighting fixtures in the area broken and not fixed?
All these questions can be revealed to the judge, whether the owner took “reasonable” care to make the property safe.
This is also why many cases settle out of court; because hoping for a judge’s decision to go your way is not something many people or businesses want to do. Their lawyers will inform them that often times settling is the safer route. This goes for both parties. There could be something unforeseen and this type of unknown is why normally both parties agree to settle.