Property owners owe a duty of care to the people invited onto their property. When a slip-and-fall occurs at a retail store, it is possible that the store owner may be held legally responsible for breaching the duty owed to the victim.
Store owners facing premises liability claims may defend themselves by contending that they were unaware of the dangerous condition that caused the slip/trip and fall accident. The victim will need to show that the store had actual or constructive notice of the condition that caused their fall.
Actual vs. constructive notice
New York store owners are expected to take reasonable steps to inspect their property for dangerous conditions and maintain their property in a safe condition. If a lawsuit is filed after a slip-and-fall, the first question is often whether the store owner knew or should have known of the dangerous condition that caused the accident. This knowledge is based on whether they had actual or constructive notice of the condition.
If a store owner had actual notice of the condition, that means they were aware that the dangerous condition existed. They could have been made aware of the condition through their own inspections or through a previous report from an employee or customer.
Common sense tells us that you cannot fix a problem that you did not know existed. In many cases; however, a dangerous condition is so obvious that the store owner would have known about it if they had conducted a reasonable inspection of the property. In such cases, it assumed that the owner had constructive notice, as they should have known about the condition.
For example, it can be difficult to prove that a store owner had actual notice of juice spilled on the floor. However, if the victim can prove that the puddle had been there long enough for a reasonable store owner to have conducted an inspection and cleaned it up before their accident occurred, they will have established constructive notice.
Establishing actual or constructive notice is essential to most premises liability cases. An attorney specializing in personal injury law can help you prove all the elements of your slip-and-fall case.