Slip and Fall Attorney in Washington, D.C.

Helping Individuals Injured in Premises Liability Accidents

Slip-and-fall accidents are among the most common cause of accidental injuries in the D.C. area. These cases tend to fall under the purview of premises liability law. They arise when a person is on someone else’s property and suffers an injury-causing accident because of a defect in the property. The defect can constitute something as little as a drink spill on the floor of an eating establishment that creates a slick spot, or it could include problems such as uneven pavement, tools, equipment or debris left in a walkway, snow, ice, or slippery spots caused foreign substances or improper materials. You encounter the obstacle, you slip or stumble, you fall, and suffer an injury.

Federal statistics indicate that slip-and-fall accidents, as well as other premises liability accidents, are among the leading causes of accidental injuries every year. Usually, a victim of a slip-and-fall can recover for injuries by showing that the owner of the property negligently failed to maintain that property in a condition that was safe for people entering the property. In the District of Columbia, that rule carries a very significant asterisk.

What Is Premises Liability?

In most jurisdictions, the owner of the property has a duty to maintain that property in safe condition for people who are invited onto the property. That can apply to private property, such as a homeowner who invites people onto his property for whatever reason, or to businesses that are open to the public and there is an implied invitation to come onto the property. Under those circumstances, the owner generally has a duty to maintain the property in a safe condition and will bear liability for accidents that occur because of negligent maintenance of the property.

In general, a property owner will face liability for an accident on that property where:

  • A person was invited to come onto the property or was hired to be there, or the owner knew that a person was trespassing on the property and failed to try and stop the trespass. An establishment open for business to the public is considered to have invited people to come onto the property.
  • The owner of the property knew or should have known that an unsafe condition existed on the property. The owner also must not have corrected the condition or corrected the hazard in a manner that did not actually eliminate the danger.
  • This failure to fix the hazardous condition resulted in the visiting person’s injury.

That’s the way it works most places.

People who suffer a slip and fall in the District of Columbia, however, face an entirely different set of rules—and they require a skillful lawyer to successfully navigate.

The District of Columbia Has Different Premises Liability Laws

The District of Columbia is one of the few jurisdictions in the country that still operates under what is known as “contributory negligence” for premises liability. Most places operate under what is known as “comparative negligence.”

Under a comparative negligence standard, if the property owner negligently maintains the property and that negligence results in you suffering an accident on the property, you can recover damages. If a jury determines that the property owner was 75 percent at fault, but your own negligence was 25 percent responsible for the accident, you may still recover 75 percent of your damages.

That is not so in the District of Columbia. The contributory negligence standard that applies to most negligence actions in the District, including slip-and-fall accidents, precludes any recovery by a plaintiff who is even 1 percent responsible for the accident. Any negligence by the plaintiff—such as failing to notice an open and obvious milkshake spill on the floor of a fast food restaurant and then slipping in that spill and suffering an injury—can act as a complete bar to any recovery for injuries suffered in the accident.

The District is making progress toward ending the contributory negligence standard. In 2014, the Motor Vehicle Collision Recovery Act passed the District of Columbia City Council and was signed into law in October 2016. The act ended the contributory negligence standard for cyclists and pedestrians injured in accidents with motor vehicles. However, the bill was specific and did nothing to change premises liability law or most personal injury law in the District.

The Contributory Negligence Standard Adds an Extra Burden to Plaintiffs’ Burden of Proof in D.C.

In premises liability cases everywhere, property owners argue that the plaintiff is responsible for at least some blame. In most jurisdictions, that could lead to some reduction in how much an injured plaintiff can recover based on the plaintiff’s level of fault. For property owners in most jurisdictions, this is an argument to attempt to reduce their liability. In the District, though, when property owners argue that the plaintiff was a little responsible for his own injury, that argument aims to eliminate liability.

To avoid liability in the District of Columbia for a premises liability case, all a property owner needs to do is show that something—anything—the plaintiff did at the time of the accident contributed in some small way to the occurrence of the accident. In the property owner can make that showing, the plaintiff’s case disappears. The showing by the property owner can be as simple as:

  • You were inattentive while you were walking on the defendant’s property. Maybe you were looking at your phone (who isn’t these days?) or distracted by something else.
  • You weren’t supposed to be where you were. If you were on a part of the property closed to visitors, that could be it for your premises liability claim in the District,
  • Your footwear was inadequate or inappropriate under the conditions, or
  • The hazard should have been obvious to you. How did you not see a chocolate milkshake spilled on a white tile floor?

To win a slip-and-fall case in the District of Columbia, a plaintiff must demonstrate blamelessness. The negligence of the property owner must bear complete responsibility for the accident. That extraordinarily high bar requires a skillful Washington, D.C., attorney to clear.

Fortunately, an experienced attorney can defeat a contributory negligence defense in a slip and fall case, so victims need to retain an attorney as soon as possible.

Reach out to The Abelson Law Firm if You Were Injured in an Accident

If you suffered an injury in a slip-and-fall accident in the District of Columbia, talk to an attorney to discover your options for compensation for your injury are. Attorney Michael A. Abelson at The Abelson Law Firm can evaluate whether your case involves any element of fault on your part and devise arguments to overcome those hurdles. You can reach him at (202) 331-0600 or through our online contact form.


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