Comparative Negligence in Slip and Fall Cases

Under Maine premises liability law, the owners of buildings and land have a duty to keep their property reasonably free of dangerous conditions that could injure others. This obligation extends to walkways and parking lots owned by or adjacent to the property. When an individual slips and falls on the property of another, the property owner may be liable under premises liability law. However, for any liability to exist, the injured party must establish negligence on the part of the property owner or possessor.

Negligence will generally arise when property owner either 1) created the hazardous condition; or 2) knew of the hazardous condition and failed to remedy it; or 3) should have known of the condition. Often, a slip and fall accident may involve some responsibility or fault on behalf of the injured party. Take, for instance, the scenario of an individual who fails to notice a “Caution: Wet Floor” sign in a local restaurant, and slips and falls on the floor. In this situation, the injured party could be argued to have played a role in their own fall, as they failed to heed the warning. This does not, however, totally preclude the injured party’s recovery.

Maine is a state that applies the doctrine of comparative negligence. Under this doctrine, an individual who is partially responsible for an accident will not be prevented from recovering against the property owner. Rather, the court will look to the percentage of fault. If the property owner is deemed to be over 50% to blame for the victim’s injuries, the victim will recover but his or her recovery will be reduced by the proportion of fault.

The Maine district court case of Doreen Gray v. United States of America, illustrates some important principals concerning comparative negligence in our state. In the case of Doreen Gray, the plaintiff drove to the Sebago Post Office the morning of January 2, 2009 to check her post office box. It had snowed a few days prior, but not that morning or the day prior. Gray parked in the lot and began to walk on the walkway towards the building. She fell within a few feet, slipping backward on what she later identified as black ice. Testimony revealed that an independent contractor hired by the post office had salted the lot that morning, but temperatures were not warm enough for the salts to melt the ice and witnesses supported the fact that the walkways were covered in black ice. Gray sustained serious, debilitating injuries from her fall and sought recovery for her damages.

The Postal Service countered that Gray acted negligently in walking on the ice that morning, and urged this should bar her recovery. The court held that mere knowledge of the icy condition does not establish negligence on the part of the plaintiff. Rather, the test is whether the plaintiff, knowing of the icy condition, reasonably believed she could use the walkway safely by exercising reasonable care.

In Gray’s case, where it was not in the middle of a snow storm and she was wearing appropriate footwear, the court believed she had the right to believe that by exercising reasonable care, she could safely navigate the walkway at the post office to check her mail. Gray was entitled to recover the full amount of her damages, which amounted to $100,000.

It is critically important that slip and fall victims understand the basic concept of comparative liability. All too often, injured parties feel they should not pursue an action because they may have had a role in the fall. A knowledgeable slip and fall attorney will review the facts of your case and advise you fully as to the chances of recovery.

Peter Thompson & Associates: Helping Accident Victims Fight for the Compensation they Deserve

Join the thousands of satisfied clients at Peter Thompson & Associates. Our Maine slip and fall attorneys have decades of experience representing individuals injured in all manner of accidents across the state. We pride ourselves on providing the highest quality of representation to each and every client, and have offices conveniently located in Falmouth, Bangor and Portland. Call Peter Thompson & Associates today at 1 800.804.2004 to schedule a consultation. Home and hospital visits are available statewide.

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