The personal injury attorneys at Lipkin & Apter have over 20 years each of experience with Illinois court cases. It's our job to understand the ins and outs of our core practice areas so that we can better serve the specific legal needs of our clients throughout the state of Illinois. According to the National Safety Council, slips and falls are one of the leading causes of unintentional injuries in the US, and are responsible for almost 9 million visits to emergency rooms each year. Do you know your rights regarding Illinois slip and fall laws?

You’re in a store, you slip and fall and break your ankle. You have surgery. While recuperating, you replay the accident over many times in your mind. You begin to wonder, "is the store owner somehow responsible for my fall? Should I contact a lawyer to see if I have a case?"

The legal doctrine to which your case applies is known as “Premises Liability” which states that the owner of a specific piece of land is responsible for some personal injuries that occur on the premises.

More so than in other areas of personal injury law, there are many general rules and exceptions, which can apply to a premises liability case. Foremost among them is this cardinal rule: if you don’t know what caused you to fall, you have no case. The fact that you fell on someone’s property and suffered a serious injury does not by itself entitle you to compensation (though most stores and property owners maintain a form of insurance, which will pay an injured patron’s medical bills up to a certain point.)

For a successful slip and fall lawsuit, you have to be able to prove:

1. There was some condition of the property, which presented an unreasonable risk of harm;

2. The property owner either knew, or should have known, of that condition;

3. The store or property owner would reasonably expect that people would not discover or realize the danger, or fail to protect themselves against it.

Let’s return now to the store where your potential premises liability case accident happened. We will assume that it’s a grocery store. You were pushing your grocery cart in the aisle where baking goods are found. You left your cart at one end of the aisle and go looking for a bag of flour. En route, you slipped and fell on a puddle of oil, which had formed after another person, knocked the bottle off the shelf onto the floor. Do you have a personal injury case? The correct answer is, “maybe.”

Additional information may be needed to prove that you have a legitimate premises liability case.

For example, how long was the spilled oil on the floor? A property owner is under a duty to exercise reasonable care to keep their premises safe. First, he needs to know that a dangerous condition exists. There is a big difference if the spilled oil was on the floor for 2 minutes or an hour. Even if the oil was on the floor for an hour, the property owner will certainly plead an exception to the general rule of liability, claiming that the danger posed by the oil was “open and obvious”, that is, that you should have seen the oil and not stepped in it.

The court or jury will have to decide whether this defense applies. If it does, you could lose your case. Let’s go a step further. Let’s say you didn’t see the oil because you were distracted by looking at an email on your iPhone while walking along in the aisle. Will this remove the open and obvious defense? Not if the distraction was personal to you rather than imposed upon you by the grocery store owner. If you were distracted by some reason attributable to the store owner, the open and obvious rule would be overcome.

The “distraction” exception to the open and obvious rule was first announced in Illinois in the case of Ward v. Kmart, 136 Ill.2d 132, 554 N.E.2d 223 (1990) in which the Illinois Supreme Court held that Mr. Ward, exiting a Kmart store while pushing a cart containing a large mirror, and who collided with a 5 foot tall concrete post located outside the customer entrance, was entitled to the jury verdict in his favor. The court stated,

“In this case it was reasonably foreseeable that a customer would collide with the post while exiting defendant’s door carrying merchandise which could obscure view of the post. Kmart invited customers to use the door through which plaintiff entered and exited… and had reason to anticipate that a customer shopping in the store would, even in the exercise of reasonable care, could momentarily forget the presence of the posts which they may have previously encountered by entering through the customer entrance door. It is also reasonably foreseeable that a customer carrying a large item which he had purchased in the store might be distracted and fail to see the post on exiting through the door.”

A slip and fall accident in a store or on someone’s property is an all too common occurrence. A “simple slip and fall case” can turn on multiple complicated legal principles. Should you or a loved one have experienced a serious slip and fall accident, the personal injury attorneys at Lipkin & Apter can help investigate your premises liability case, explain the legal issues to you, and prosecute the case to the full extent allowed by law.