How Do You Know You Have a Good Trip and Fall Case?
How do you know if your trip and fall injury has generated a legitimate slip and fall case? We know that people trip and fall or slip and fall under circumstances that do not create liability on the part of a third party, such as the owner of the store, restaurant or other business where the injury occurred. After all: sometimes folks fall due to their own carelessness, sometimes one of our senior citizens unfortunately loses his or her footing, and sometimes plain old accidents just happen. People who have suffered personal injuries in these situations certainly should contact a TLO lawyer to clarify their rights—for reasons made clear lower in this blog post—but in general these scenarios do not make promising claims.
While the technical breadth of premises liability creates potential claims in an infinite range of scenarios, there is one that every plaintiff’s lawyer is looking for: a building code violation by the defendant. The specific code in effect varies by jurisdiction: in Charleston it might be a version of the International Building Code; in Beaufort it might be the Standard Building Code; at a residence in Walterboro it might be the Residential Building Code. What they all have in common, though, is that they emphasize safety above all things, in part by including dozens of provisions designed to eliminate tripping hazards.
These provisions affect all parts of a building that pedestrians might encounter. Sidewalks must be level and must not include offsets or lips in their surface which exceed, generally, ½ of an inch. Stairways must have consistent, uniform tread depth and riser height, and must have protrusions (called “nosing”) from the front of each tread (the horizontal surface) within specified lengths. Handicap access ramps must comply with a host of specific requirements. Doorways have to be of specified dimensions, and must provide a consistent walking surface on either side of the threshold. The codes impose all sorts of obligations concerning the configuration of interior walkways…the list goes on. And on.
Besides being very good public policy, these code provisions form the backbone of a really good premises liability case. If the plaintiff can prove that his or her injury was caused by a condition which violated these provisions, then the building owner is what the law calls negligentper se: negligent on its face. There are a host of technical benefits to the plaintiff from a negligence per se scenario, but the real benefits are on the practical side of things in litigation.
In particular: if the plaintiff can show that he or she fell/tripped/slipped because of a building code violation, then all of the standard defense arguments are completely disabled: they just don’t work. The insurance company lawyers will want to argue that you fell because you weren’t watching where you were going. Or because you are a senior citizen and you’re prone to falling. Or because you were taking medication or were intoxicated. These arguments work pretty well sometimes. But when the injured person’s lawyer can point to a specific trip hazard, a specific building code violation, which is an unlawful condition, the defense arguments lose all of their efficacy, because those arguments basically require the jury to ignore the code violation. In our experience, juries don’t say, “Oh, it must just be a coincidence that the plaintiff fell right where this building code violation/trip hazard exists.”
So when Traywick & Traywick gets a call from a client who’s been injured in a trip and fall or slip and fall accident, the first thing we do is to get pictures of the condition. The second thing we do is to get those pictures to our trusted network of structural engineers, who can tell us, usually in 24 hours, whether there is a code violation which has produced a very good premises liability case.
We have had excellent success with this approach to premises liability cases. Many firms shy away from these cases because, in fairness, they can be tough to win. Other firms will take these cases but are not willing to advance the resources necessary to get the case up and running, and postured for success. Our approach is straightforward: invest the time and resources necessary to get the best outcome. Anything less, in our view, is an insult to the client.
Our lawyers—Ben Traywick and David Traywick—make a point of being available to prospective clients at all times to discuss whether there is a case, and if so to act quickly to get the ball rolling toward a fair recovery. Call any time to discuss your case.