Making a slip & fall claim in South Africa

Everyone has or will likely slip and fall whether walking along a pavement, uneven gravel, on wet floors or even in rainy weather.

The law requires that we take reasonable and appropriate care of ourselves when on the premises of another, and also requires that the person in charge of the premises to take reasonable care in preventing or minimising the harm that occurs to people while they are in or passing through such premises.

Is the owner of the premises liable for a ‘slip and fall’ injury?

In the case of public areas, the local municipality and government are responsible for any personal injury claims. Business and property owners are legally responsible for private properties, holding a “duty of care” towards the public that uses their premises.

The majority of property and business owners are protected by liability insurance, the purpose of which is to compensate injured parties and to cover legal costs which may arise due to negligent acts or omissions. However, this insurance also covers the owner from certain cases of personal injury, so if you are injured it is important to consult a legal specialist in processing your claims.

Tips for dealing with slip and fall claims

Personal injuries resulting from “slip and fall” accidents most commonly occur in shopping centres, on pavements and function venues.

For example, let’s imagine Kgomotso is on his way to a business meeting to get a loan for his emerging home repairs business. He wants to be prompt so he is walking at pace, checking his smart-phone for an important meeting and stock market updates. Upon entering the premises Kgomotso stops to greet the receptionist before walking up the stairs to the conference room. On his way up the stairs, he slips on something sticky on the floor, falling down to the bottom of the stairs. howling in pain, he realises he has twisted his ankle and his arm is cut and bleeding. In order to deal with his injuries, the receptionist calls for someone to take Kgomotso to the doctor.

After his injuries have been seen to, Kgomotso may want to claim from or sue the person in control of the loan firm’s building. If his injuries are mild enough, he can obtain the relevant information immediately after the accident, which may make things easier later.

It is important that he collects the following details;

  • The details (name, contact number and address) of the person in charge of the premises, as well as those of any witnesses (in the example this would be the receptionist).
  • Take photographs of the area where you were injured, and the surroundings, careful to show the fault that led to your injury. This is important as the building may be modified after you leave the premises to remove the defect that led to your injury. In the case of the example above, this would be someone cleaning up the sticky goo on the stairs that caused you to slip and fall.
  • You must contact the legal representatives of the business, it is possible that they have insurance against these kinds of claims. You do not want to launch a claim only to find that the company has protected itself against these claims.
  • You must get the relevant medical documents as well as the invoices detailing the procedures. You must see the doctor as soon as you have suffered the fall, as well as any time after the fall that you experience complications or repercussions.

How do you know if your claim has merit?

The law does not require individuals to watch their every step. It is reasonable to assume that people look around them as they interact with people at functions, browse grocery shelves at the shops, or while looking at a map at the bus station for directions on where to go.

A successful slip and fall claim is mainly dependent on proving that the injured party was less negligent than the owner of the premises where he was injured.

This is proven by asking the following questions.

  • Would a reasonable person, such as a property owner, foresee the reasonable possibility that his management or administration may injure another person, causing them to slip and fall?
  • Could the property owner have done something to prevent the accident that resulted in the claim? For instance, could the occurrence of sticky slime on the stairs have been prevented and could it have been mopped up before Kgomotso climbed the stairs?
  • Did the owner take such steps to prevent the accident?

Determining how reasonable preventing such an accident is, is not clear-cut and depends on the circumstances specific to each claim.

There are several questions that one can ask in order to determine the validity of the slip and fall claim:

  • Does the owner of the premises where the accident took place, check and maintain the property on a regular basis?
  • Is there any record of such assessments by the owner?
  • Could the presence of warning signs or a blockade have prevented the accident?
  • Who is liable for the claim? The owner of the property or the business? Are they one and the same?
  • Could your own negligence, have contributed to or caused the accident?
  • Is your negligence involved in causing the accident more or less extensive than that of the building’s owner?
  • Could you have reasonably prevented slipping and falling by being careful and on the lookout?
  • Were you distracted at the time of the incident? Kgomotso was looking at his phone, could this have made him unable to notice the sticky slime on the floor that he slipped on?

Appropriate claims for damages are;

  • Past and future medical expenses resulting from your injuries.
    In Kgomotso’s case, he may need to claim for medical expenses resulting from the hurt and bleeding arm (stitches, blood transfusion, bone setting, surgery, physiotherapy).
  • Future loss of earnings
    If the arm you hurt was important for performing your job; if you are an athlete, a typist, a surgeon, you may be eligible to claim for loss of earnings.
  • General damages due to pain and suffering caused by the injury. These are damages you might incur relating to the fall, such as assets that may have been damaged or psychological trauma incurred.

Don’t wait. Report your injury claim ASAP!

The longer you wait to report the incident, the more difficult it becomes to prove your claim. It is important to seek treatment immediately after being injured. Following that it is recommended that you clearly document the incident and the circumstances involved. Make sure to consult an experienced lawyer, specialising in personal injury claims, as she will be able to help you navigate the legalities of claiming for slip and fall injuries.

Lawyers who specialise in medico-law will be able to assist you in assessing the validity of your claim as well as the severity of the damages incurred.