If you have slipped, fallen, and suffered an injury, you may be wondering whether or not you have a case against the owner of the property you slipped on.
A 2010 lawsuit brought against Quality Food Centers (QFC) helps to clarify the law in Washington State with respect to slip and fall incidents. The case, Tilton vs. QFC, was filed after a QFC shopper named Terry Tilton slipped and fell in the flower department of the Lakewood QFC store. Tilton sued QFC for negligence, arguing that the grocery chain was responsible for her medical bills, in addition to damages for emotional distress.
She claimed that she slipped on water negligently left on the floor in an area that QFC invited its customers to walk in. Importantly, Tilton admitted that she did not see any water on the ground before she fell. She also admitted that she knocked over a pot containing water as she fell.
QFC sought to have the case ended early on, taking advantage of a process called summary judgment. Summary judgment allows the court to end a case early if there are no facts up for debate, and thus nothing for a jury to decide.
QFC argued that because Tilton did not see any water before she fell, she would never be able to prove that QFC was responsible for her injuries. Furthermore, QFC noted that because she knocked over a pot full of water while falling over, any water present after she fell might have been from that pot, rather than already on the ground.
The court rejected QFC’s argument for a couple reasons.
First, the court noted that Tilton is not required to constantly monitor the floor to see whether there is water present. If anything, that is QFC’s responsibility. Second, QFC’s floral department manager and Tilton both made statements that suggested she may have slipped on water, including that Tilton caught the pot upright. She also testified that the water in it would not have been enough to account for all of the water on the ground and on Tilton after her fall.
QFC also argued that even if Tilton slipped on water left in the floral department, she had not proven that it was an unsafe amount of water, and therefore that QFC was responsible for her injuries.
The court rejected this argument as well. It said that Tilton testified that she was “soaking wet” after falling, indicating that there was a large amount of water present. Furthermore, the floral department manager had admitted that when there is water on the floor, it can be unsafe for customers to walk in.
Ultimately, the appellate court ruled in Tilton’s favor, saying that she deserved a jury trial to assess whether or not QFC was responsible for her injuries.
So what does this case tell us about slip and fall lawsuits?
First, it tells us that people who are injured do not have to be directly aware of exactly what happened to them. Tilton could prove to a jury that she was injured by QFC’s negligence without seeing the water she slipped in, so long as the preponderance of evidence suggested she did slip on water not marked or cleaned up by QFC.
Second, it tells us that, depending on the circumstances, property owners have a duty to inspect for possible safety issues and protect invitees walking on their property.
If you have been injured after slipping and falling on either public or private property, including public roadways or sidewalks, please contact us for a free legal consultation.