Injuries caused by slips, trips, and falls are everyday occurrences. These injuries could be at home, in a public place, on a sidewalk, at work, or in a commercial establishment. One of the initial reactions to almost every individual who slips, trips, or falls is embarrassment. The person feels extremely embarrassed that he or she has fallen to the ground. He or she looks around to see who may have seen him or her and tries to get up as soon as possible and walk away so as not to be further embarrassed. This is a normal human reaction. However, it is frequently a reaction that makes proof of a case very difficult. If for example, you tripped, slipped, or fell as a result of coming into contact with a foreign substance, i.e. liquid coming from a meat case at a deli department in a grocery store, or ice in a parking lot as you are walking towards your car, it becomes extremely important to be able to identify the substance that caused your fall, where it was located, the dimensions of the slippery surface, and the potential source from which the foreign substance came.
So, if you are in a situation where you slip and fall in a supermarket near the deli counter, land on the ground and get up and walk away and then report it to the manager ten minutes later after you start feeling significant pain, it may be too late. If you return to the spot where you fell, and there are no markings on the floor, and there is no foreign substance on the floor that indicates what, if anything, you fell upon, your ability to pursue such a case without your being able to identify what substance was on the floor, its size, and where it most likely originated, is greatly reduced.
There is also a natural inclination for people who are sitting in judgment, either by way of being an insurance adjuster, arbitrator, judge, and/or jury to denigrate or look suspiciously upon people who slipped and fell as though there is always some fault on the person who fell. People frequently are asked the question by insurance company defense lawyers, "Why didn't you see the danger if you were looking where you were going?" This ignores the reality of how people actually walk. As people are looking ahead, they are not scanning immediately below their feet. If one turns a corner in a supermarket aisle and slips and falls on a liquid product leaking from an end-shelf display, it is nearly impossible for that person to perceive the spill prior to the fall. This is the way a normal person walks and looks around the corner. People do not walk with their head down, or there would be many more injuries from people bumping into objects because they were not looking ahead
There is a tendency for people to believe that it is not appropriate to bring a claim where you were a participant in your own injury by virtue of having tripped, slipped, or lost your balance. Pennsylvania operates on principles of general fairness. Pennsylvania has adopted the Comparative Negligence Standard. This allows fact finders to weigh relative fault for an incident. In the case, where somebody is walking on a sidewalk and does not see an icy discharge from the side of a building during winter, a jury and/or finder of fact may conclude that the person should have seen this and assess some percentage of fault. However, an assessment of a percentage of fault of fifty percent or less does not deprive the injured person of a remedy. Given the above example, if a jury and/or judge were to conclude that a person walking down a sidewalk perhaps should have been more aware of his or her circumstance and concludes that person is 20% at fault, this does not mean that the injured person cannot recover. It means that if that person's injuries were assessed at $100,000.00, that person would only be able to collect $80,000.00 or eighty percent (80%) given the comparative nature of the fault. As long as the injured party is not greater than fifty percent (50%) negligent, the person can recover their relative portion of fault from the wrongdoer.
Many times, the only way to prove a case of an inexplicable fall is to determine what body mechanics were involved in a particular circumstance. In numerous cases handled by Murphy & Dengler, there have been situations where architects and/or engineers were necessary to talk about the human factors involved in someone walking up and down a set of steps or entering and/or exiting a building. Many times, the building itself is defective. In one case, where a young 12-year-old girl was playing in an apartment complex, running in and out of the entrance door with her cousin, she accidentally put her hand through a pane of glass, which sliced two nerves in her dominant hand, causing considerable disability. On its face, there appeared to be a situation where the young girl was predominantly at fault, because of the horseplay in which she was engaged.