Slip and Fall Verdicts in the District of Columbia

This is the third article in a three-part discussion of recent verdicts in the Superior Court for the District of Columbia. We have discussed medical malpractice cases (see http://www.maryland-law.com/library/dc-medical-malpractice-verdicts-a-cautionary-tale.cfm and car and truck crash cases. (see http://www.maryland-law.com/library/district-of-columbia-car-and-truck-crash-verdicts.cfm

Today the topic is so-called slip and fall cases. Slip and fall cases describe a broader group of cases where the victims encounter unknown or unexpected hazardous conditions such as ice, floor wax, slippery foods, oil or other viscous fluids.

The basic rule of thumb is that the defendant in such a claim must have either known about the hazard and failed to alleviate it or failed to warn the public about its existence. A subset of cases involve defendants who did not know about a hazard but should have known.

This is to say that if it is forseeable that members of the public will come into contact with for example, crushed grapes on the floor at a supermarket, the supermarket should have a system for monitoring the floors of the produce section regularly and cleaning up potential hazards promptly. When you are at the grocery and hear "clean-up on aisle six" or observe large yellow hazard signs in an aisle, the store is simultaneously protecting patrons and protecting themselves from potential liablility.

Often at trial, a great deal of the focus is on such mundane matters as how old the banana peel looked, as an indicator of how long it had been on the floor or how many people had stepped on it or run over it without the store cleaning it up.

The concept is that stores are not insurers of absolute safety on their premises. The law in the District of Columbia and Maryland has evolved in a manner that provides many protections to the defendants. When you fall and break your arm at the grocery store your focus is not on what caused the fall or how long it had been on the floor but on getting medical attention. Consequently, unlike an auto collision, the police don't come and interview witnesses or take pictures and proving your case after the fact is very difficult.

This is reflected in the Superior Court verdicts in such cases. Between January 1, 2007 and December 31, 2008, seven slip and fall cases went to verdict. Three verdicts were for the defendants and four for the injured party. The average plaintiff's verdict was around $7,300.00. The high verdict was $20,000.00 and the low $332.00

This should give potential slip and fall litigants pause. Where more than 150 car and truck crash cases went to verdict during the same period of time, five percent as many slip and fall cases were tried. We at Clark and Steinhorn postulate that this is because of the difficulties in assembling evidence in such cases.

The final caveat, if you are seriously injured in  any incident, get witnesses and pay attention to how you were hurt, it is the only way to protect yourself in court.