Rain and threats of rain have started to become the norm again in Central Florida. With many days featuring overcast skies and the occasional shower, we find ourselves having to watch our step more than usual. As the seasons progress, and rain becomes more common, caution becomes more important than before. With the wet weather, there will be an inevitable increase in instances of slip and fall accidents. Slip and fall is the most common personal injury claim, but when the wet weather is factored into the equation, the inevitable question people must ask themselves is: do I have a case?
The purpose of this article is to clarify the legal doctrine of reasonableness, and explain how it applies to slip and fall accidents and personal injury law in general.
The Reasonable, Prudent Person
Most legal theory rests on an essential assumption: that all parties involved are reasonable, prudent individuals, and are capable of behaving as such. This is because the law recognizes that certain hazards are common hazards that people are expected to navigate as a matter of course. Take staircases as an example. If one falls down a set of stairs, and investigation reveals the staircase was well maintained, in good repair, had guard-rails, met all building codes, and there were no hazards to impede progress or cause a loss of footing, the owner would not be liable. The reason for this is that a reasonable, prudent person is expected to be able to navigate a set of stairs.
This doctrine applies to all aspects of life, and can mean the difference between liable and not liable, or criminal and non-criminal infractions. If you step off the curb without looking both ways in a city for example and are hit by a car, this doctrine of prudence would prevent criminal liability. However, in that same scenario, the driver may be held to civil liability because the prudence doctrine cuts both ways: a reasonable driver must be cautious of pedestrians in major metropolitan areas. This becomes even more important if the driver in question was speeding or violating traffic laws.
Slip and Fall in the Rain
This is where the rain comes into play. As a natural consequence of the rain, sidewalks and city streets are likely to be wet. Furthermore, entryways to stores and shops are also very likely to be wet. This means that you, as a reasonable and prudent individual, are expected to walk cautiously, conscious of the rain. It is also unreasonable to expect a store to keep their parking lots dry in the midst of a rain storm, thus one cannot claim the store was being negligent in any way if you slip and fall outside.
If you move indoors, however, that is where things take a different turn. It is not unreasonable to expect a store to have mats on which a customer can dry their feet as they enter, nor is it unreasonable to expect a store owner to keep aisles and other parts of the interior that are far from the entryway dry. At the entryway, it is incredibly difficult to keep things dry and safe, but further into the aisles the environment is easier to maintain. Again, reasonableness cuts both ways: a reasonable individual recognizes that rain means things are slipper, and a reasonable store owner understands customers will be tracking water in and should probably give people a way to dry off their feet as they walk.
So Do I Have a Case?
As clarified above, every case is different. Not every injury and bump will merit a civil penalty against the property owner where your accident occurred. However, there are cases where it seems like your injury resulted from your failure to meet the doctrine of reasonableness, but there are other factors that contributed to your fall you did not know about. If you fall getting information such as witness names and photographs of the scene are many times the difference between getting a recovery and not getting a recovery. Use the above as a general guide and a reminder that nothing beats vigilance.
If you have any questions about a fall or any other type of injury, call me at (407)599-2100.slip and falls