Slip and Fall/Premises Liability

Premises (property) owners have a duty under California law to maintain their premises in a safe condition for foreseeable users (which may even include trespassers). The premises owner is not a guarantor of everyone's safety on the premises, but must behave as a reasonable prudent person in maintaining the property and correcting hazards that he knew or should have known about.

Falls happen for a variety of reasons, and are often no one's fault. Further, even where the premises owner is responsible for a dangerous condition, the person falling is often held partially responsible for their own negligence. Each person has a duty to watch where they are going. However, even in cases where the person falling is somewhat responsible, they can still recover for any negligence on the part of the premises owner.

There are several different types of slip and fall:

  • "Trip and Fall" accidents occur when there is a foreign object in the walking path, such as a brick laying in the middle of the sidewalk or a rolled up mat at a doorway.
  • "Stump and Fall" accidents occur when there is an impediment in the walking surface, such as a raised sidewalk.
  • "Step and Fall" accidents occur when there is an unexpected failure of or hole in the walking surface, such as potholes in a crosswalk.
  • "Slip and Fall" accidents occur when there is a failure in the interface between the show and the floor, such as when oil or water is spilled on the floor.


If you fall at a business, school, or even on someone's property, you should immediately report the accident. The premises owner's employees should come out to make a report and take your statement, and you should demand they do so should they refuse. Make sure to get the name of the person making the report, and ask for a copy of the report before you go when possible. If the employees refuse to make a report, make sure that you note the names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses, note the date and time, record any comments made by those who saw you fall or helped afterwards.

Take pictures of the scene, including the dangerous condition. Please note that any investigation, including the taking of photos, done by the employees is for their internal use and will probably not be available to you to prove your case as it is considered privileged information prepared in anticipation of a lawsuit. Many people have cell phones with cameras, or can buy a disposable camera to take pictures with. Remember that you have the burden of proving that a dangerous condition existed at the time of the fall, and the employees will probably correct the dangerous condition as soon as you leave, if not before.

Note for yourself the names, addresses and phone numbers of witnesses, including employees, whenever possible, even if the premises owner's employees have made a report. Hopefully, if you asked for a copy of their report before leaving, you will have this information on their report. Otherwise, make sure to get this information yourself.

Have your injury reviewed by your medical provider as soon as possible. In many cases you should go to the emergency room or an urgent care clinic. Otherwise, see your primary care doctor or chiropractor at the earliest opportunity. You need to document the injury if you are to prove you sustained it in the fall. Further, you have a duty to "mitigate" or lessen your damages. If you fail to get medical treatment the law will hold you, not the premises owner, responsible if your injury gets worse or can no longer be treated because of your delay.

Next, take pictures of bruises or cuts you sustained in the fall. They will usually fade quickly so you need to take pictures early, even if you have not yet decided to bring a claim. Many people expect to get better over time, but by the time they realize they are not going to get better and seek medical care, the bruises have faded and cuts have healed. Pictures of injuries help to demonstrate the forces involved in the fall and the areas of the body that were impacted, which when correlated with medical evidence and testimony presents clear evidence of how the fall caused the injuries claimed.

Finally, contact a personal injury attorney experienced with these types of claims. Recent jury verdict research indicates that approximately 70% of slip and fall cases go to the defense. In other words, the injured party loses. Usually, this is because they did not preserve the evidence by getting information on witnesses and taking photos. In other cases, it is because many businesses are very good at hiding what really happened, and an experienced attorney knows which questions to ask and evidence to seek in order to maximize the recovery in your case. The earlier an attorney is brought into the case the more evidence he can preserve on your behalf before it is altered or lost.