Determining Negligence of the Property Owner in Slip and Fall Cases

Under Maine premises liability law, all property owners have a duty to maintain their property in a reasonably safe condition. Despite this duty, incidents often occur wherein an individual is injured on the property of another. Sometimes the injury is a result of pure accident, but often it is due to a dangerous condition on the property. Falls attributed to dangerous conditions are often termed “slip and falls,” and can include any variation of slipping, tripping, or falling that results in injury to one’s person. Common slip and fall incidents include: stairway accidents, often due to poor lighting or defective conditions such as rotting wood; slippery surface falls; sidewalk injuries caused by poor maintenance; and balcony or terrace falls due to defective design.

Property owners may be held liable for the injuries sustained by others on their property if the victim can establish several factors. The injured party must prove that cause of the accident was a dangerous condition and the owner or possessor of the property knew of the dangerous condition. Additionally, the dangerous condition must present an unreasonable risk to the person and it must have been a condition that the injured party would not have anticipated under the circumstances.

Establishing Knowledge on the Part of the Property Owner

Premises liability cases often turn on the issue of whether the property owner or possessor knew of the dangerous condition. Knowledge can be established in one of three ways:

  1. The owner created the dangerous condition; or
  2. The owner knew the dangerous condition existed and negligently failed to correct it; or
  3. The owner should have reasonably known the dangerous condition existed and corrected it prior to the slip and fall.

It is the last factor—constructive knowledge, that leads to much litigation. Timing is a central issue for establishing constructive knowledge on the part of the property owner. The court and insurance companies will look to how long the defect existed and whether it could be presumed in this time that the defendant had knowledge of its existence. Here, an early test known as the “gritty banana peel test” may prove useful.

Two cases arising out of Massachusetts in the early 1900’s established what has been coined “the gritty banana peel test.” Anjou v. Boston Elevated Railway Co. and Goddard v. Boston and Maine R.R, presented two different scenarios:

  1. The Yellow Peel — if the plaintiff slips on a yellow banana peel, it indicates the peel was recently deposited on the ground. The owner can claim no knowledge of the defect in this situation.
  2. The Brown Peel— if the plaintiff slips on a brown or gritty peel, it has been on the floor for some time. The owner may be liable for damages, particularly if the plaintiff can establish actual knowledge, as where the peel was previously reported and employees failed to remedy the situation

The gritty banana peel test is applicable to many other scenarios. It has been applied in cases throughout the U.S., both in actual form and more metaphorically. The state of the banana stands for an important liability principal—the longer the defect existed, the more likely the plaintiff is to recover damages. Premises liability attorneys will examine the physical state of the condition that caused the slip for evidence that it did not suddenly appear before the fall. Knowledgeable slip and fall attorneys will also gather any and all evidence of prior complaints concerning the condition, which will serve as proof the owner was aware of the hazard and failed to remedy it.

Peter Thompson & Associates: A Proven Track Record with Results You Can Trust

At Peter Thompson & Associates, we use our decades of experience in the field of premises liability law to help slip and fall victims maximize their recovery. Our dedicated attorney staff will meticulously investigate the facts of your fall and skillfully guide your case to success. Call Peter Thompson & Associates today at 1 800.804.2004 to schedule a consultation at one of our convenient office meeting locations. Home and hospital visits are available.

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