Can You Sue for Minor Slip and Fall Injuries?

People familiar with New York’s no-fault auto insurance law often wonder if the same principles apply to other types of accidents, such as a slip and falls. Slip and fall settlements without surgery or evidence of a permanent injury would be pretty meager if New York no-fault laws prevented victims from suing. Fortunately, they don’t.

As you might know, New York adopted the no-fault system for auto accidents in the 1970s to reduce lawsuits over minor injuries. Under the law, every motorist is required to carry at least $25,000 worth of liability protection and $50,000 worth of personal injury protection. Injured parties file claims with their insurance provider when an accident happens. Their personal injury protection coverage (“PIP”) coverage takes care of medical bills and other economic losses. PIP doesn’t cover pain and suffering, and victims with minor injuries are not entitled to sue.

To sue over an auto accident in New York, you must show that you have suffered a “serious injury” within the definition of the law. Such injuries include:

  • Death
  • Dismemberment
  • Loss of a fetus
  • Bone fracture
  • Disfiguring scar
  • Loss of function to a body part
  • An injury that is medically determined to prevent the victim from performing all regular activities for 90 days out of the first 180 days following the accident

Unless your injury meets one of these criteria, you cannot sue in New York.

But, as mentioned earlier, the no-fault rules do not apply to slip and fall accidents. This is a good thing because even a “minor” injury can run up your medical bills, keep you out of work for more time than you can afford, and cause nagging pain that, for a time at least, ruins your enjoyment of life. As an innocent victim of someone’s negligence, you deserve compensation for all of these losses.

Slip and fall victims can bring a claim for any injury, provided they can prove the elements of the case:

  • A landlord knew or should have known of a hazard on the property
  • The hazard was not open and obvious to visitors
  • The landlord was unreasonable for not removing the hazard or providing adequate warning
  • The hazard caused the victim to fall
  • The fall directly caused the victim’s injuries

These elements may seem straightforward, but the specific circumstances of the accident can throw doubt on a case. Take, for example, the classic “clean up on aisle four” scenario. In this instance, a customer in a grocery store drops a jar of pasta sauce, shattering the jar and creating a slick mess on the floor. The customer goes off to find an employee, and only a few seconds later, the victim walks down the aisle and slips on the sauce, falling onto the hard surface.

The victim will claim all the elements are met, so the store owner is liable. The store owner will say, “Hold on a minute,” because:

  • Bright red pasta sauce on a white floor is an obvious hazard. The victim bears some responsibility for not paying attention.
  • The store has unfolding safety cones in the middle of each aisle, which any customer can grab, pop open, and use to cover a spill, warning customers who are coming down the aisle.
  • An employee responded in a reasonably timely manner; it was just the victim’s bad luck to be coming down the aisle immediately after the other customer had made the mess.

With these points, the store will argue that the other customer, not the store, is liable.

Most slip and fall cases turn on whether the parties involved were “reasonable.” This requires a judge and/or jury to consider the totality of the circumstances and put the actions of both parties in context. For this reason, you should retain an experienced attorney who knows how to assemble evidence into a compelling and persuasive case.

Finally, it’s worth noting that even though you are not limited by the no-fault insurance law, you will have to deal with an insurance company. That company has highly trained and experienced lawyers who defend claims aggressively to protect the company’s bottom line. You need an equally skilled advocate fighting on your side to get the compensation you deserve.