Slipping on Water Accumulation-What is the Law in Pennsylvania?
Water accumulation after a storm or in the winter months is common. Slip and fall accidents may result and in the majority of those instances, no one is seriously hurt. However, serious injuries can and do result from an ordinary slip and fall, especially where the accident occurs on hard floors such as marble or tile. Fractured bones, head trauma, and spinal injuries can be devastating, physically, emotionally and financially. The law in Pennsylvania is clear: business owners such as hotels, restaurants, bars, shopping malls, hospitals, professional offices and more have a duty to take reasonable care of their premises and take reasonable steps to prevent injury to guests, customers, and clients.
Pennsylvania law pertaining to water accumulation slip and fall accidents is governed by the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 343, Dangerous Conditions Known to or Discoverable by Possessor, which generally states that a possessor of land such as a business is subject to liability for physical harm caused to its invitees by a condition of the premises if it:
"(a) knows or by the existence of reasonable care would discover the condition, and should realize that it involves an unreasonable risk of harm to such invitee, and
"(b) should expect that they will not discover or realize the danger, or will fail to protect themselves against it, and
"(c) fails to exercise reasonable care to protect them against danger."
In most slip and fall lawsuits, the case boils down to whether the plaintiff can prove that the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the defect. The statutory language of subsection (a) of Section 343 comes into play: "knows or by the existence of reasonable care would discover the condition." In fact, most defense attorneys stake their entire defense on this point. Actual notice means that the owner/landlord actually knew about the defect prior to the accident. Constructive notice means that the owner/landlord should be charged with knowledge based on the circumstances. Factors which help establish constructive notice include:
the length of time the defect existed before the incident,
the size and physical condition of the premises,
the nature of the business,
the number of persons using the premises,
the nature of the defect,
the location of the defect on the premises, and
the probable cause of the defect and the opportunity which the owner had to correct it.
In addition, another relevant factor is the nature and extent of a defendant's inspection procedures (i.e., how often, by whom, when, etc.).
Mather v. Pennsylvania State University is a 2003 slip and fall Court of Common Pleas case from Centre County. In that case, Penn State owned and operated a hotel which is where the plaintiff was staying for a conference. As plaintiff walked through the atrium area, he slipped on a large puddle of water, which he alleged came from a leak in the roof above the location of the puddle. The defendant/owner of the hotel argued that plaintiff could not produce any evidence that it either knew or should have known of the puddle of water.
In denying the defendant's motion for summary judgment or to dismiss the case, the court found that plaintiff had produced enough evidence to establish constructive notice, including plaintiff's testimony that the ceiling above the leak was discolored from being wet, that water was dripping from the ceiling onto his head and that there was enough water to have soaked his clothing and the papers he was carrying.
Pennsylvania law clearly supports cases against landowners/buildling owners who are negligent in their care and control of premises. Patrons who suffer serious injuries should speak to a qualified injury attorney as soon as possible to ensure evidence is preserved.