Slip and fall accidents injure millions of Americans every year. Approximately 14,000 people die and hundreds of thousands suffer permanent disability after falling. The elderly are especially vulnerable. Charles E. Turnbow, Slip and Fall Practice 1-2 (2010)[hereinafter Turnbow]. A fall injury may result in serious injury as well as pain and mental suffering. Between 2006 and 2012 in premises liability cases the most frequently claimed injuries were knee injuries. Ankle injuries were the second most frequently reported injury, followed by disc damage, leg injuries, shoulder injuries, arm injuries, spinal nerve injuries, and wrist injuries.
Unfortunately, an Oregon fall injury may also expose the victim to a tangled web of complex legal doctrines and proof requirements that can all too easily result in the defense avoiding any liability. The landowner’s responsibility for fall injuries can’t even begin to be determined until the question of visitor “status” is answered. “Oregon follows the traditional rules governing landowner liability, under which the duty that the landowner owes to a person who comes on land depends on whether the person is an invitee, licensee, or trespasser.” Stewart v. Kralman, 240 Or App 510, 517, 248 P3d 6 (2011). An invitee receives the greatest legal protection of the three categories and is a person who is either invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose for which the land is held open to the public or a person who is invited to enter or remain on land for a purpose directly or indirectly connected with business dealings with the possessor of the land. Taylor v. Baker, 279 Or 139, 146, 566 P2d 884 (1977).
But the burden on the injured person to prove liability does not really decrease after status as an invitee is determined. Property occupiers are “liable to invitees only for conditions that create an unreasonable risk of harm to the invitee.” Jensen v. Kacy’s Markets, Inc., 91 Or App 285, 288, 754 P2d 624 (1988). They are not insurers of an invitee’s safety. Fickert v. Gallagher, 274 Or 139, 142, 544 P2d 1032 (1976). This can make it difficult to prove that a condition that clearly caused someone to trip and fall qualifies as sufficiently dangerous.
The most common attribute that assists a pedestrian in recognizing that an object is present, for example, is contrast, the difference in the amount of light reflecting from an object and that reflected by the object’s background. Turnbow, supra at 4-37. Even so, a lack of contrast by itself is not considered enough to impose liability on the landowner. Under Oregon law, a step that is “located in a place where steps normally may be found, or with indications in the surrounding area that steps are present, with a surface of the same appearance both above and below, with no deceptive lighting, not covered with slippery substances, and with no established history of causing injury, does not pose an unreasonable risk of harm . . . .” Glorioso v. Ness, 191 Or App 637, 645, 83 P3d 914 (2004). This means that a winning premises liability case is not necessarily the likely result even if an injured person qualifies as an invitee.
Careful attorney investigation of all the facts supporting liability is a must. The legal obstacles between injury and recovery of compensation mean that consulting an experienced fall injury attorney is essential in every slip, trip, and fall case.