If you slip (or trip) and fall in a restaurant's parking lot because the parking lot is uneven or damaged, are you entitled to compensation for your injuries? Your attorney will likely say that you are, but the defense attorney is likely to blame you for not being attentive enough (or just clumsy). When is a fall your fault, and when is someone else to blame? 

Premises Liability And Your Local Restaurant

The property owner of the restaurant has what's known as premises liability. This means that he or she has a responsibility to keep a reasonably safe environment. This includes things like maintaining adequate lighting in the parking lot, and keeping the parking lot itself well-maintained in general.

The Duty Of Care Owed To An Invitee Of The Restaurant

Because you are a guest of the restaurant, or an invitee, a somewhat stronger obligation is placed on the restaurant's owner to take reasonable steps to assure your safety. The duty isn't as strong towards other types of people on the property, such as a licensee or trespasser. That means that you only have to prove that:

  1. There was an unreasonable risk of harm to you because of something the owner did or failed to do.
  2. The owner knew about the problem (or should have known about it).

​For example, take the example of a banana peel on the floor of a store. If a greasy black banana peel has been laying on the floor for a day and a half in the produce department of a grocery store, it's a pretty big hazard. Somebody could easily slip and fall on it.

The owner of the grocery store has a duty of care to keep the place clean, and that includes sweeping up the floor on a regular basis. The fact that the banana peel laid there long enough to blacken indicates that the store owner had some time to discover the problem. The fact that he or she didn't bother to keep the floor clean represents a breach of that duty to care for his or her customers (or invitees).

Circumstances That Minimize The Restaurant's Liability

However, there are many things that can influence whether or not you have a strong slip-and-fall lawsuit. For example, what if the banana peel is fresh? The owner may not have had any opportunity to discover the banana peel, and that could affect his or her liability. What if you saw the peel, watched the owner wash off the floor, and then proceeded to walk on the wet floor and fall? Is the owner liable because he or she didn't warn you the floor was slippery when wet? Are you responsible because you should have realized that there was an obvious danger on the wet floor?

Plaintiffs in personal injury cases are also required to show that they exercised a reasonable amount of care, under the circumstances, to avoid getting injured. This is why the restaurant may allege that you are wholly or partially at fault for your own accident, saying that you either knew about the danger and didn't avoid it (like a reasonable person would), or you just fell over your own two feet. 

The concept of contributory or comparative negligence is behind this defense. In some states, the defense only has to show that you were even 1% responsible for the accident in order to stop your recovery for your injuries. In most states, however, the law compares each party's level of fault when deciding what settlement to award. In some states, you still can't recover for your injuries if you are 50% or more at fault for the accident. In others, you can still recover something, but the amount will be reduced according to your level of fault.

As soon as you realize that you are hurt and may need to make a personal injury claim, talk to an attorney. Your attorney can help you understand the laws in your state regarding negligence in slip-and-fall cases, plus the strength of your case.