There are two kinds of slip or trip and falls in a public space. One is a situation where the property owner has modified or designed a facility that is inherently unsafe. An example of this might be stairs that are placed in an unexpected place and difficult to see. People may think they’re walking on a straight path and then there is an unexpected stair and they fall and they hurt themselves. Another example is a structural situation where a door opens to descending stairs (this is surprisingly common).
The second type of slip and falls in public places involve situations where the failure to safely maintain the public place is a cause of injury. Examples of this type of negligence include failure to provide carpets in the lobby of your office building in the winter, failing to shovel snow or to salt sidewalk ice accumulation. In a grocery store, it often is failing to have clean up in the aisles of the store after people spill things or failing to have “wet floor” notices on freshly mopped floors.
The second type of slip and fall lawsuit, failure to maintain a safe environment, includes a requirement of notice. The property owner should have known of the hazardous situation and did what they can to warn visitors about it. A business owner can’t pretend that, in a typical Milwaukee winter, they are surprised that snow outside caused wet floors inside. The law attributes to store owners a knowledge that ordinary weather causes expected hazards.
On the other hand, if someone spills olive oil in aisle three, the question is, when did the store know or when the store should have known that there was a spill on the floor that may cause a shopper to fall. The “should have known” standard is in place because the store is also not allowed to be willfully blind. They are required to inspect their aisles to keep their store safe.
The standard of care for supermarkets is to have walkthroughs by store staff. When did they become aware or when should they have become aware had they been properly diligent?
Hotel keepers have a particularly high obligation of their promises and they are required to do a more thorough inspection than just the ordinary business owner, in part because you’re entrusting your safety to the hotel keeper and you do not have any control over the premises.
Who can be held liable in a slip and fall case?
It can be the store itself, in other words the entity running the business, the building owner who may have certain duties to maintain the physical plant of the building, a maintenance company or a cleaning company whose job it is to make sure isles are clean or make sure snow is shoveled. It really depends on the facts the case has and the nature of the injury.