Falling or Getting Hurt at a Place of Business or On Someone's Property

Premises Liability Cases, as they are often called, is a case that is brought against a property owner after getting hurt at their place of business or on their property. The most common kinds of premises liability cases in and around Chicago are

  • Slips and Falls
  • Tripping Accidents
  • Stair Injuries
  • Porch and Deck Collapses
  • Elevator Injuries
  • Swimming Pool Accidents
  • Falling Objects

Usually these kinds of accidents happen in public places like shopping malls, restaurants, hotels and motels, movie theaters, sidewalks, stadiums, parking lots, and the like. Accidents that happen when out in public can often be serious. A bad fall, for instance, often leads to dislocated or broken bones, head injuries, or worse. If you were hurt on someone else’s property or at a public place, you may wonder how your medical bills will be paid or if you can be compensated for time missed from work. As with all other personal injury cases, success in a premises liability case largely comes down to how the accident happened and whose fault it was.  

What it takes to Succeed in Illinois on Premises Liability Cases

In order to succeed when you are hurt on someone else’s property, there are basically four things that you need to prove:

  • Breach of Duty
  • Notice
  • Injury
  • Causation

A Duty Owed by the Property Owner

To succeed in your case against a property owner, the owner (or an employee since the owner has control over employees) has to have failed in duty of care that was owed to you. In other words, everything starts with a duty. Property owners have a legal obligation to exercise ordinary care towards other people. This does not mean that the property has to be perfect, but the ordinary care standard means the place has to be in a reasonably safe condition, especially if it is public place. If a property owner was careless or created an unsafe condition, there could be liability. For example, in a public building there should be adequate lighting so that people can see where they are going. Rugs and other flooring should be in good condition to avoid people tripping. In a restaurant, any food, drinks or glass that ends up on the floor has to be quickly cleaned up. Hotels need to provide adequate security. Any place serving food must comply with health codes in terms of cleanliness and food safety to avoid food poisoning to patrons. Recently mopped floors should have Wet Floor signs displayed to warn customers.

This duty is only owed to people who have a legal right to be there and does not apply to trespassers. So, if you jump a fence to get into a place where you have no business being, you cannot complain if something then falls on top of you.

Notice: The Property Owner or Employees Knew or Should have known of the Unsafe Condition

If no one knew about the danger and it would not have been reasonable to expect the owner or an employee to know about it, then you probably don’t have a case. You must show that whatever caused you to get hurt was a known problem or condition. This can sometimes be difficult to prove but there are a few ways to do it. If the condition existed for a long period of time, it is more likely that the property owner knew about it, or at least should have known about it. For example, if there is an old staircase somewhere that is crumbling, it is highly likely that the owner or people who work there are fully aware of its age and deteriorating condition. Sometimes it can come down to a failure to do something, like placing mats down at an entrance when rain or snow keeps coming in from customers’ shoes. On the other hand, ice cream on the floor in a store aisle might have been dropped by a customer just a few seconds ago.

Time sometimes plays a factor. There must be a reasonable amount of time to take care of or warn against the problem before an owner is held liable. For example, if a waiter is carrying a drink and spills it all over the floor, and at the same moment, someone slips on it - a defense can be made that there was not enough time to clean the spill before the accident, and therefore, the restaurant did nothing wrong. Then again, if the waiter was carrying too many drinks at once, was he being careless? It is not always so clear cut, making these kinds of cases a challenge at times.  Then you may have a completely different scenario where a waiter spills a drink and rather than having it cleaned up right away, ignores it or steps over it thinking that it can be cleaned up later when they are less busy.

Injury

While it may seem obvious that you need to actually be hurt to bring this type of a personal injury claim, sometimes people wonder if they have a case because of what could have happened. The answer is no. For example, if you were in the hallway of a hotel and it was dark because the bulb was burned out and you bumped into a service cart but didn’t get hurt, you don’t have a case just because something from the cart could have fallen on top of you or because if you had been walking faster, you could have been hurt. We've all probably experienced "someone could have been killed" outrage. But almost injured does not make a case. If you fell down on a wet floor but then got up again and nothing really happened to you other than possible embarrassment, then you do not have a slip and fall personal injury case.

Causation

The unsafe condition or wrongdoing must have also been the cause of the accident. Returning to the example of a deteriorating staircase, if you fell on the deteriorating staircase but did so because someone shoved you out of the way, you cannot blame the condition of the stairs on your fall since you would have fallen down anyway even if you had been shoved on a new set of perfectly good stairs.

Premises Liability Cases Depend Heavily on Facts

In Illinois, slip and fall and other premises liability cases are not always straightforward and there is often a lot more to it than what is explained above. The success of these cases often depends upon the circumstances surrounding the accident and being able to prove what happened. Your own recollection of what happened will be very important but may not be enough and a complete investigation should be taken, which may involve watching video surveillance tapes, speaking to employees, and talking to witnesses who saw what happened.

Steps to Take if you were Injured or Fell on Someone’s Property

Do not be shy about reporting the accident to a manager. Do this as soon as possible, preferably before leaving, if you can. However, make sure that you do not allow yourself to be interrogated. Keep it simple and if you are hurt, speak up. Do not be ashamed to ask for physical assistance even though it is normal to be embarrassed. Your physical well being is the  most important thing.

If you need medical treatment after the accident or just want to get checked out because you don’t feel right, be sure to do so sooner rather than later. Many people wait hoping the pain will go away and when it doesn’t, they are stuck waiting for an appointment. If you wait too long to seek medical treatment, it can even be used against you in your case. Tell your medical provider what you feel and follow their recommendations.

Do not delay speaking to an attorney. Asking for information does not mean that you have to pursue a claim but you simply need to know at the outset how to protect yourself, in case your injury turns out to be serious and you need your medical bills and other damages taken care of. An honest conversation with a personal injury lawyer should happen early on, even before the decision is made to hire one at all, because the insurance company for the property owner will most certainly try to get in touch with you right away, before you have a chance to find out what your rights are. They will bend over backwards to be nice and earn your trust, but make no mistake about it- they are out to protect themselves and are not there to ‘get you taken care of’.  This does not mean that the property owner doesn’t feel bad about what happened but business is business and the insurance company wants to build a case against you from day one because that is their job. Give us a call at 630 250-8813 to find out what your options are if you were hurt on someone else’s property.

Carol O'Connor Cadiz
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Attorney & Owner at O'Connor Cadiz Law: Injury & Accidents, Disability Insurance.