If you or someone you know has been injured in a slip and fall accident, questions usually arise as to who is at fault. The owner of the property? The tenant? A utility company who owned a fixture on the property? The injured party? The answer is: it all depends. It could be all of them; it could be some. And, like every slip and fall case, it depends upon the specific facts and the circumstances surrounding the fall.
Let’s use the example of someone who slips on an icy metal grate in a food store’s parking lot. Is the responsible party the owner of the property? The tenant store who occupies the space? The utility company who owns the grate? Or the client who didn’t use caution when walking on through the lot?
New Jersey law states that owners of a commercial or business property must exercise reasonable care in order to ensure that their property is safe for members of the public. However, a tenant could also be liable. For example, if the landlord and tenant have a written or verbal “arrangement” stating that the tenant is responsible for the maintenance of the property, then the tenant could also be held liable for someone’s injuries.
What about the Utility Company? As the owners of the grate, they too have a duty to act responsibly in order to ensure that their fixture poses no dangers to the public.
Finally, what about the client? Is it the public’s responsibility to be aware of their surroundings and know if a property poses potential hazards? There certainly is enough blame to go around in slip and fall cases.
The landlord could claim that the tenant was responsible for maintaining the property; the tenant says there was no written agreement requiring the tenant to maintain the property; both are blaming the utility company who, as the owner of a hazardous fixture on the property should have maintained their equipment; and the utility company claims that the injured party should have used extreme caution when walking through a parking lot when the weather was hazardous. All three are blaming the client, whose life was changed when they fell on the grate.
In this case, barring a finding that injured party is more than 50% liable it won’t matter if the landlord wants to blame the tenant, the tenant wants to blame the utility company and the utility company wants to blame the client. In this case, as attorneys, it is our responsibility to protect the interests of our clients by immediately and thoroughly investigating the accident scene, take photographs of the surrounding areas, interview witnesses and determine the ownership, control and maintenance issues surrounding the fall.