Slip-and-fall cases comprise a significant part of our practice. There are a number of potential causes of slip-and-fall accidents.
The top three causes are: (1) spills (such as spilled coffee, leaked oil, etc.); (2) accumulation of water (rain, condensation, leakage from appliances like ice machines, etc.); and (3) failure to use warning signs and/or pylons after an area has been mopped.
Cases involving spills can take a number of different forms. However, the most common is spills in a self-service location. By "self-service" I mean an area where customers are helping themselves to something. A good example is a self-service drink dispenser at a fast food restaurant or a salad bar. These cases fall within what’s known as the Pimentel exception. Typically the owner of property or operator of a business needs to be "on notice" of a spill before it can be held responsible for it. However, courts have held that in self-service locations the owner or operator is on "construction knowledge" of potential spills because that’s what happens when customers serve themselves.
The slipperiness of materials is measured based on their coefficient of friction. Most materials are not dangerously slippery until they have water accumulate on them. (As a rule of thumb, materials need to have a coefficient of friction higher than .5 in order to be safe.) Water can accumulate in a variety of different ways and when it does slip-and-fall accidents happen.
We’re seeing more and more slip-and-fall accidents on utility covers. Utility covers can be safely traversed when they’re dry but many of them become unreasonably dangerous (and slippery) when wet. The problem is the use of either smooth metal or diamond plate for these covers. Neither provides an adequate coefficient of friction when wet.
Since the late 1980s there has been a product called Slip Not that’s been used by some utilities like PG&E to provide an adequate coefficient of friction on utility covers even when wet. However, many cities and utilities have failed to adopt this technology or have been late in adopting it.
Even before the introduction of Slip Not there were lots of ways to provide an adequate coefficient friction on utility covers. (For instance, vessel owners have been using a combination of paint and sand for hundreds of years to make their decks safe and skateboarders have used grip tape since the 1950s to provide a very high coefficient of friction on their skateboard decks.)
We also handle a lot of cases where people slip and fall in restaurants or commercial bathrooms right after mopping. One of the most frequent scenarios is a customer either goes into a bathroom that has been freshly mopped, slips and falls (because there was no warning sign) or emerges from the bathroom and slips and falls on a recently mopped area because the warning sign was not in their line of sight as they exited the bathroom.
Slip-and-fall cases are challenging. However, these challenges can typically be addressed with a thorough understanding of the causes of slip-and-fall accidents and a degree of comfort with the science that goes into both the mechanism of the client’s fall and also general fall prevention principles.
The vast majority of slip-and-fall accidents could be prevented if property owners and business operators were careful and devoted the same resources to customer safety that they do to marketing, advertising, and loss prevention.