Slip and fall claims tend to be among the most difficult civil negligence cases to successfully negotiate and litigate in Alabama. In today's world, it is extremely common for businesses where the public comes to conduct business (grocery stores, convenience stores, retail shops, big box stores, etc.) to have advanced camera recording systems installed throughout their stores in order to help prevent both theft and false liability and negligence claims. Additionally, retailers have now started to train their employees to watch out for and correct hazardous and dangerous conditions that may occur on their property. The camera systems in these stores typically make or break a slip and fall claim.
Walmart is perhaps the largest retailer in America. It seems that everyone shops at Walmart, so there are many thousands of customers who enter each Walmart on a daily basis. The reason I am bringing up Walmart, is that I have a significant amount of experience in dealing with Walmart in various negligence actions across Alabama. I am extremely familiar with Walmart's liability insurance company, CMS, and I know how professional and thorough they are when it comes to investigating and negotiating negligence cases, especially slip and fall claims.
So what exactly is a slip and fall claim? A slip and fall claim is exactly what it sounds like it is; a claim made by a plaintiff (the customer who is shopping at the store) alleging that they slipped and fell on/in something (a puddle of water, a spilled liquid product, a recently mopped floor, or a banana peel!) and injured themselves. The plaintiff (the customer) alleges that a dangerous or hazardous condition existed and that the land owner/occupier (in this scenario, lets say Walmart) had a duty to make the store safe for customers, breached that duty, and that the plaintiff's injuries were proximately caused by this negligence. The plaintiff then alleges that he then incurred damages ( a sprained ankle, medical bills, lost wages from work, pain and suffering, etc.). Sounds like all necessary elements of a general negligence claim, huh? Well....it depends.
Let's set up a common slip and fall scenario to work from and then break down the elements and evaluate the claim as if it were an actual event. Let's say that a customer, Mr. John Doe, is a customer who is shopping at the local Come & Get It retail store (I just made that store name up!) in Chelsea, Alabama. The Come & Get It retail store sells just about everything....groceries, clothes, toiletries, televisions, auto parts, gardening supplies, etc. John is a frequent shopper at the Come & Get It. He knows where everything is in the store.
One day, John is grocery shopping at the Come & Get It. He is over by the produce section and he is looking at the selection of apples, as he plans on baking an apple pie for dessert. As John reaches for an apple, he slips on some brown-colored liquid on the floor (later determined to be a spilled Pepsi), loses his balance and cracks his head on the corner of the apple display shelf. He now has a concussion, a sprained left ankle and a bad laceration on his forehead that will require stitches. Chelsea Fire and Rescue responds to the store and transports John to UAB Hospital in Birmingham to have his injuries evaluated and treated. John is then discharged from the emergency department and immediately starts searching the internet to find a good lawyer in Shelby County to pursue a negligence claim against Come & Get It, Inc.
Well...John is no dummy! He decides to call Erik Fine at Patriot Law Firm, LLC to see if he has a good case. When John calls Erik at Patriot Law Firm, LLC, he is thrilled to discover that it is the lawyer himself, Erik Fine, who answers the call! John is able to tell the story directly to Erik, who listens intently. Erik agrees to come to John's house and meet with him to discuss more details of the case. John is very pleased that he doesn't even have to leave his house to meet with an experienced Alabama lawyer. John is even happier when Erik agrees to meet with John on Saturday afternoon so John doesn't have to miss time that he spends babysitting his grandson!
When Erik arrives at John's house at the EXACT time agreed to meet, John invites Erik inside and goes back over the story, now in more detail. Erik begins asking some more specific questions about John's unfortunate slip and fall. Erik asked John what time he got to the store? How long was he in the store before he slipped and fell? What kind of shoes he was wearing? Does he wear glasses or contact lenses? Was he wearing them at the time he slipped and fell? Does he walk with a cane or use a walker? What was the weather like when he went to the store? Was he carrying anything in his hands at the time he slipped and fell? What color was the tile on the floor? Was he talking on his cell phone or listening to music on his earbuds? John thought those questions were kind of weird and unrelated, but answered them anyway. After all, Erik must have a good reason to ask them, right?
INVITEE vs. LICENSEE
Erik then starts to explain some REALLY WEIRD stuff to John. Erik said that a retail store, like Come & Get It, Inc. has specific duties to people who come into the store for the purpose of conducting business...like grocery shopping. Erik said that the legal title given to people who come into a store to shop are called INVITEES. Erik said that John was an INVITEE. Erik said that INVITEES are owed certain duties by the store. Those duties are to:
- WARN the INVITEES of a dangerous and hazardous condition (posting a sign or assigning an employee to prevent people from hurting themselves).
- CORRECT and/or REMOVE the dangerous or hazardous condition that exists, making it safe to conduct business (mop up the spilled liquid and make the area safe).
Erik then explained what a LICENSEE is. Erik said that a LICENSEE is a person who comes to a place NOT to conduct business, but comes more as a visitor or friend. He explained that if he were to have a barbeque at his house and were to invite a guest over to his house to eat and watch the Alabama game on television, that guest was legally known as a LICENSEE. Erik said that the duties owed to a LICENSEE is only a duty to WARN the LICENSEE of a dangerous or hazardous condition, NOT to correct it. Erik said that if the handrail on his staircase is loose, he would only have a duty to WARN the guest (LICENSEE) that the hand rail was loose, but he didn't have to make it safe.
John was so confused! He said that it sounds like an INVITEE should be the name for the person who is INVITED to the friendly barbeque, and that a LICENSEE sounds more formal and should be the name reserved for people shopping at a store "conducting business." Erik agreed and said that that really confuses a lot of people (and other lawyers). He told John to think of it like, "a customer is INVITED to come to the store to spend money."
10 MINUTE RULE
Erik told John that in Alabama, businesses and retail stores are allowed at least 10 minutes to discover dangerous and hazardous shopping conditions. That is why it in one of the "standing orders" for store employees to perform safety checks of their zones or areas of responsibility to discover and correct dangerous or hazardous conditions, such as a spilled liquid on the ground. So if the Pepsi that was spilled onto the floor next to the produce that John slipped in had been there LESS THAN 10 MINUTES, John wouldn't have a good case against Come & Get It, Inc. But if it had been on the floor LONGER than 10 minutes, the law believes that that is enough time for a land owner/occupier (Come & Get It, Inc.) to have noticed the spill, been able to warn shoppers (INVITEES), and CORRECT and/or REMOVE the dangerous or hazardous condition that exists. That's why Erik asked John how long he had been in the store before he slipped and fell. That's also why he asked John what time he got to the store. Erik will get a copy of the time stamped video in that area of the store to coordinate and confirm WHEN the Pepsi was actually spilled!
Then Erik told John about the exception to the 10 Minute Rule in Alabama. Erik said that if it was the land owner/ occupier or his agent (an employee at the store) that actually CAUSES or CREATES the dangerous or hazardous condition (if the employee was the one who spilled the Pepsi on the ground), there is NO LEGAL NEED for the 10 Minute Rule since the employee is IMMEDIATELY on notice of the hazardous or dangerous condition since he was the one who created it!
OPEN AND OBVIOUS
Erik told John that the most commonly used defense in slip and fall claims and cases is what is known as the "open and obvious " defense. In the open and obvious defense, the land owner/occupier claims that the hazard or dangerous condition that exists is out in the open and obvious to all persons in the area and that thereby the invitees are put on notice of the dangerous or hazardous condition existing by their own observation. Erik told John that because the floor at the Come & Get It was a dark tan color and the Pepsi was dark brown, he didn't think that that defense would prove to be useful to the store. If the tile floor were white, perhaps then the defense would have some merit. Regardless, people typically don't walk around a store shopping with their eyes on the floor in order to avoid dangerous or hazardous conditions on the ground. If they did, they would walk right into more dangerous and hazardous situations!
John was certainly impressed with Erik's knowledge of slip and fall claims in Alabama. Erik told John that at the law firm he used to work, he was known as the "Master of Slip and Fall Cases." In fact, every single slip and fall case that came through the firm was assigned specifically to Erik! Now THAT is some SERIOUS know how! Erik told John that he would contact the store manager and the insurance company for the store, set up the claim and send them a Letter of Representation and also what is known as a "spoliation letter." A spoliation letter is a formal request for the store manager and the insurance company to preserve the video of the slip and fall for pending and possible consideration and/or litigation. That way, if the video somehow "mysteriously" disappears or is no longer available, the judge and jury will know that a specific request to prevent "spoilage" or loss of the video was presented.
John hired Erik to represent him in his slip and fall claim. Erik told John that he thought that if all of the facts on the video of the incident were favorable to John, that John would most likely be successful in his claim for general negligence against Come & Get It, Inc. Isn't it "open and obvious" that hiring Erik Fine at Patriot Law Firm, LLC to represent you in a slip and fall claim is the smart thing to do? Give him a call today at (205) 478-2498.
Here is another closely related blog regarding negligence claims and cases in Alabama. Read https://www.patriotlawllc.com/the-legal-elements-necessary-for-a-successful-negligence-claim-in-alabamaLegal Elements Necessary