It’s a widely-held belief that America is one of the world’s most “litigious” societies. In other words, we sue each other a lot, and more than the citizens of other developed nations. As work crews removed “dangerous” playground equipment from the parks of New York City in 1996, NYC’s parks commissioner Henry Stern said: “In today’s litigious world, the children come to the playground with parents and the parents come with lawyers.”

Was Sterns right? Has America become a society of individuals bound together not by the rule of law, but the threat of a lawsuit? A recent set of statistics, released by New York Law School’s Center for Justice Democracy (CJ&D), suggests otherwise. In 2008, tort cases (those involving negligence, like slip and fall accidents) made up only 4.4% of courts’ civil caseloads. And that number has been falling consistently since at least 2006. In fact, only 10% of Americans even file insurance claims for their injuries. A mere 2% file lawsuits.

Do I Have A Slip & Fall Case?

After reviewing the facts, America doesn’t seem that litigious anymore. In reality, we don’t sue each other that often. And when we do, when individuals pursue personal injury lawsuits, we’re often doing the right thing. At least, juries seem to think so. According to the US Department of Justice, more than half of all tort trials are won by plaintiffs, injured parties. Which means that most claims hold up to scrutiny; they’re valid. But this isn’t to say that people, even those who mean well, don’t occasionally file frivolous lawsuits.

So how do you know? How should you think about your own accidents? And ultimately, when should you suspect that negligence may be to blame?

Making A Case For Injury Lawsuits

Every successful personal injury lawsuit is based on clear negligence. For a quick overview of negligence, visit our Premises Liability page. Essentially, negligence is when someone fails to do something that they should have, and another person gets hurt. Legally, it’s more complicated than that. But for our purposes that definition will serve just fine.

As slip and fall lawyers, we’re presented with multiple potential negligence claims every day. Some have merit, and some don’t. Here’s what separates the two:

1. Knowledge

Your accident must have been “reasonably foreseeable.”

Egg yolk on the floor of a supermarket is a “reasonably foreseeable” hazard. Everyone knows that egg yolk is slippery. We would be reasonable to expect a business owner, after seeing egg yolk on the floor, to recognize it as a hazard and clean the stuff up. If they don’t, and you get hurt, you might have a case. But that might not be enough.

A common defense in cases of premises liability is that the hazard was “open and obvious.” Let’s say you’re tramping through the woods on a friend’s property. The path is covered in roots and branches, you trip over one, and break your ankle. That’s not much of a case. For one, what did you expect? Of course there are going to be branches in the woods. And second, you should have been looking down, watching the path for hazards. In this situation, the hazard was “open and obvious,” which makes it your responsibility, rather than your friend’s, to keep yourself safe.

In the case of our supermarket example, shoppers usually aren’t checking the ground for hazards as they walk through the aisle. They’re looking through the shelves and picking out products they want to purchase. Further, most shoppers expect clean floors, which means they don’t usually walk with their eyes to the ground. It’s not at all clear that the egg yolk was an “open and obvious” hazard.

Questions To Answer:

  • Was the hazard that caused your fall obviously a hazard?
  • Would we generally expect a property owner to recognize it as dangerous?
  • Was it something that people wouldn’t expect you to notice on your own?

2. Time

A property owner must have had an adequate amount of time to remedy the problem.

This one is fairly self-explanatory, and runs along the line of logic. Let’s say you pulled into a store parking lot, and broken glass popped one of your tires. Do you have a property damage case?

It depends on when the glass was broken, how long it was left a hazard on the property. If someone broke the bottle two minutes before you pulled in, how could we reasonably expect a property owner 1) to even know about it and 2) to do something about it? In this situation, you would have to prove that the broken bottle was left for a long time, long enough that the owner should have become aware and cleaned it up.

Questions To Answer:

  • Was a clear hazard neglected, present on the property for a long time?

Contact New York City’s Slip & Fall Lawyers

Many of the questions we just outlined are surprisingly hard to answer. In fact, most personal injury lawyers spend a considerable amount of time investigating accidents, rather than writing briefs.

Still wondering about your situation? Not sure how to answer our questions? Give the personal injury lawyers at Banville Law a call. You’ll speak to an experienced attorney within 24 hours. Explain your case and we’ll review your legal options clearly. Contact us today for a free consultation.