South Carolina Slip and Fall Law: When It's Nobody's Fault But Your Own

After my last post on premises liability entitled "South Carolina Slip and Fall Law: Premises Liability",  I have received a good many clients and phone calls. However, I think further detail is needed to cover some of the areas that cause people confusion.

It may be a strange thing to hear from a lawyer but sometimes, there is no one to blame in a slip and fall accident but yourself. Just because you fall down on someone's property does not mean the landowner is responsible for paying you for the injuries you incurred. I am sure it can be embarrassing to fall down and no one wants to get hurt and seek medical attention for fun. Just think about these scenarios:

  1. A roofer is hired to fix the top of your aging house and while jumping across the roof like a monkey, slips and falls to the ground, injuring themselves;
  2. Someone enters your home and trips over your bare hardwood floors for no apparent reason; and
  3. A shopper is pushing their cart down the aisle when one of their flip-flops comes off their feet causing them to stumble to their knees.

I would not take any of the above cases for the injured parties. They were simply harmed for no apparent reason or instigating factor. To have a slip and fall case there needs to be an element of notice to the landowner or the landowner must actually have created the harmful circumstance. Switch the cases around a bit and they would be worthy of pursuing further-

  1. A roofer is hired to fix the top of your aging house and while jumping across the roof like a monkey, slips and falls through a hole that had shingles placed over it when you noticed a leak but you failed to tell the roofer about your  "quick fix";
  2. Someone enters your home and trips over the burly rug you have had for some time with all the corners ruffled over, that has caused you to trip over it once or twice already; and
  3. A shopper is pushing their cart down the aisle when they slip and fall in their flip flops because of all the water leaking from the ceiling/freezer/turned over product and there are no warning signs.

I would take a further look at the cases above.  Again, just because you fall on someone's property doesn't mean they owe you money. They owe you money when you receive injuries because you harmed yourself when they knew about a dangerous condition, should have known about a dangerous condition, and/or created a dangerous condition and failed to forewarn you about the condition.

Feel free to run any scenario you want by myself or someone that does that type of law in your state. A simple test to ask yourself:

I would not have fallen down but for ________.

Who is responsible for that blank?

 

South Carolina Slip and Fall Law: Premises Liability

Premises liability is often times referred to as "slip and fall" law. A general overview of South Carolina premises liability indicates that:

  • To establish negligence in a premises liability action, a plaintiff must prove the following three elements: (1) a duty of care owed by defendant to plaintiff; (2) defendant's breach of that duty by a negligent act or omission; and (3) damage proximately resulting from the breach of duty. See Hurst v. East Coast Hockey League, Inc., 371 S.C. 33, 37, 637 S.E.2d 560, 562 (2006). (emphasis added);
  • If you can't demonstrate how the defendant owed a duty of care to the plaintiff then the defendant can move for what is called "summary judgment" and you will not even have your case heard by a jury but thrown out of court. Singleton v. Sherer, 377 S.C. 185, 200, 659 S.E.2d 196 (Ct.App. 2008). See also Hopson v. Clary, 321 S.C. 312, 314, 468 S.E.2d 305, 307 (Ct.App. 1996);
  • The nature and scope of duty in a premises liability action, if any, is determined based upon the status or classification of the person injured at the time of his or her injury. Singleton v. Sherer, 377 S.C. 185, 200, 659 S.E.2d 196 (Ct.App. 2008). See also Sims v. Giles, 343 S.C. 708, 715, 541 S.E.2d 857, 861 (Ct.App.2001);
  • South Carolina recognizes four general classifications of persons present on the property of another: adult trespassers, invitees, licensees, and children. Different standards of care apply depending upon the classification of the person present. Singleton v. Sherer, 377 S.C. 185, 200, 659 S.E.2d 196 (Ct.App. 2008). See also Larimore v. Carolina Power & Light, 340 S.C. 438, 444, 531 S.E.2d 535, 538 (Ct.App. 2000) ("The level of care owed is dependent upon the class of the person present.")

Understand premises liability in South Carolina now? I didn't think so. I haven't even had a chance to detail out the law on each one of the above mentioned categories of persons present on the property of another: (1) invitee (2) licensee (3) adult trespasser (4) child.

I didn't have a chance to mention "Assumption of the Risk" and "Open and Obvious" defenses the defendant's attorneys often times raise in an effort to downplay their client's negligence. 

Remember what makes these cases harder than the most common personal injury cases:

  • No highway patrolman or police officer shows up to the scene and listens to both sides and determines that one side is more at fault than the other;
  • No person usually admits guilt; 
  • There are usually no witnesses to the "slip and fall", and
  • There is usually no camera or surveillance footage available, contrary to those black bubbles you may see or thoughts that there should be a camera available.

Do some work to assist your attorney in helping you with these cases by:

  1. taking any pictures of the area in question to better illustrate the negligent condition of the property;
  2. getting a copy of any incident report filled out by the landowner or their agents, servants, and/or employees;
  3. write down names and contact numbers for any witnesses that may have seen the slip and fall or come to your aid; and
  4. if you are aware of any negligent conditions on someone's property notify them in writing with certified mail and share your concerns with them.