How Do You Determine Negligence in a Utah Slip and Fall Case?
Law students spend a large portion of the first year of law school learning about all sorts of different torts intentional or otherwise. However, in practice, most cases of personal injury are based on negligence.
Common law negligence has evolved over the centuries to include four elements.
1. Duty – The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed her a duty of care.
2. Breach – The defendant must have breached the duty of care owed to the plaintiff.
3. Injury – The plaintiff must have been injured (bodily harm or property damage).
4. Proximate Cause – Defendant’s breach must have caused plaintiff’s injuries directly.
In reality, proving negligence is usually more complicated than that. That’s why you need a lawyer, but every negligence claim follows that above pattern. In slip and fall cases in Utah, property owners are deemed negligent when they fail to take specific precautions as defined by the courts.
Owners of business are not required to guarantee that their guests (the law calls them, “business invitees,”) never slip and fall. The owner is only charged with the duty to use reasonable care to maintain the premises for the reasonable safety the guests.
For example, if a shopper slips on a water spill in the produce section, the grocery store is not automatically deemed negligent. In order to prove that the grocery store did not act reasonably the plaintiff will have to prove one of two things. That the slippery floor was either a permanent unsafe condition that the defendant had a responsibility to remedy or a temporary unsafe condition that the defendant had notice of and the opportunity to remedy.
A hypothetical situation should make this clearer. If Peggy slipped on a puddle of water in the produce section of Dan’s grocery store she will have to prove all the elements of negligence and the elements of the specific breach.
1. Duty – Peggy is going to have to prove that at the time of the fall she was in an area controlled or owned by Dan.
2. Breach – Peggy must prove that Dan did not act reasonably. She can use the permanent situation theory: grocery stores use water to keep produce looking fresh, there should have been non-slip mats near vegetable cases and there were none.
Peggy can also make an assertion using the temporary condition theory: A guest’s child spilled water on the floor. The guest reported the accident, but the store employees did not clean up the mess within an hour where it was left for Peggy to slip on.
Peggy’s theory of the case will depend on the facts.
3. Injury – Peggy must show that she was injured in the accident. Perhaps the fall caused a severe ankle sprain or a head injury. If Peggy was not injured, just embarrassed, after the fall she does not have a case for negligence.
4. Cause – Peggy must show that Dan’s actions caused her injuries. She must prove that the damage to her foot or head was caused by the slip and fall and not something else like a pre-existing condition.
In his defense, Dan may argue that Peggy was partially at fault for the accident. He will have to show that Peggy was also being negligent by acting unreasonably. Perhaps she was running around the grocery store pretending to be Wonder Woman and not looking out for dangers.
However, if Perry is less at fault for the accident than Dan she is not barred from recovering some damages from him. Utah has a comparative negligence statute. Utah Code Ann. §78B-5-818.
Please note that these specific standards apply only to business owners. Utah has different negligence standards for private landowners, homeowners, and trespassers.