Categorized | Opinion

The Biggest Legal Myth

By David PeelDavid Peel

When I speak to various groups and churches, I will sometimes ask what is, “one thing that we can all agree that we know for sure is true about law?” The most common response is the often repeated belief that, “If someone is hurt on your property then you are automatically at fault.”
I have heard this so many times, but the truth of the matter is that this is a myth and it is not true.
And it’s not that it was true and then somehow changed and you just didn’t hear about it. It’s never been true. In any state. At any time.
Because it’s been repeated like the gospel so many times it has a belief so deeply entrenched that some people won’t believe me when I tell them the truth.
Keep in mind; I do these kinds of cases. They are known in the business as “premises liability” cases. Also they are sometimes just called “slip and fall” or “trip and fall” cases.
That usually happens when a store has a hazard, like a leak, and fails to either properly warn or address the problem.  Then, when some unsuspecting customer falls, the customer actually has to prove that the business owner knew or should have known of the problem. But that’s only half the battle.
Customers must also effectively show that they could not have known about it or else they would be just as much at fault as the owner of the store. Thus, the argument goes, if the condition is so obvious that the store should’ve seen it and fixed it, then the problem is so obvious the customer should’ve seen it and avoided it.  This is essentially why so few lawyers take slip and fall cases anymore. They are extremely difficult and fact specific.
However, I have had cases against almost every department store and kind of store I can think of, as well as other types of buildings and malls and developments.
The wet floor signs that you tend to see everywhere are meant to try to stop slip and fall cases. They work in at least two ways.
Firstly, they tend to alert the customer to a hazardous condition where the customer is able to avoid falling. Secondly, if the customer still manages to fall, the storeowner argues that the customer knew about the condition just like he did because of the sign’s presence. Keep in mind, there’s no rule against is blind people or people who don’t speak English going to stores so it is not a perfect solution. But it certainly helps the stores. And what helps the stores more is to have people roving around looking for hazards and quickly having access to signs and mops without having to leave the area of the spill.
Other ways business owners can keep the customer safe, and thereby cut down on lawsuits is to check their ramps, their parking lots, their sidewalks, and the rugs in front of their doors.
Any significant unevenness in any surface can trip someone and, upturned rugs or water-saturated mats can actually make the solution the problem.
The danger of falling is even greater for those who are handicapped or have issues walking. The stores would like your money just as much as any able-bodied person, so they certainly don’t have a sign restricting who can come in.  But those on walkers, crutches, or on some type of mobility scooter, are clearly at a greater risk for falling.
When the storeowner takes the advice of Philippians Chapter 4 and looks out not only for his own interests but also the interest of others, then fewer injuries occur, and fewer lawsuits are filed and that is good news for everyone.
Peel seeks justice for those injured in car accidents, work place incidents, medical malpractice, and nursing homes. He often addresses churches, clubs and groups without charge. Peel may be reached through wherein other articles may be accessed.
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October 2014
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