When is a North Carolina business responsible for a slip-and-fall?

Understanding North Carolina’s premises liability laws empowers victims of slip-and-falls to hold responsible parties accountable.

If someone walks into a North Carolina grocery store and falls due to a puddle of water, is the grocery store responsible for the person's injuries? The answer is not a simple yes or no. There are a number of factors at play that determine who is responsible for the incident and whether or not damages will be awarded.

The basics

The main factor in a slip-and-fall case is proving that the defendant was negligent. In other words, plaintiffs will have to demonstrate the following:

  • The defendant owed the plaintiff a duty of care.
  • The defendant failed to do so.
  • The plaintiff's injury was a result of that failure.

When it comes to public buildings, such as a grocery store, the store owes a duty of care to people who are lawfully entering. On private property, people who are invited onto the property - either as guests or people who are there to perform a service - are owed a duty of care. There is an exception when it comes to people who are trespassing. Liability laws generally do not cover trespassers, though there are exceptions when it comes to young children.

Illustrating a duty of care is not enough, however. People stray from that duty of care in several ways, such as failing to maintain property or failing to warn people of an area that is hazardous. For example, if there is a puddle of water on the floor and a store manager knew about it but did not attempt to clean it up, it creates a hazard that could lead to a lawsuit.

This area gets a little tricky, because plaintiffs must show negligence. It is possible that, in the instance of the puddle of water, employees were unaware of the situation prior to the incident. For the most part, property owners are generally held liable for conditions they knew about or should have known about.

Contributory negligence

One other roadblock to securing damages in a premises liability lawsuit is North Carolina's contributory negligence law. This law states that if the plaintiff had any responsible role in the incident, no damages may be recovered. For example, a bar patron falls down stairs that had fallen into disrepair. However, the victim was drunk at the time of the accident, which impaired the ability to recognize the hazard. A jury could determine that the plaintiff played a role in the incident and therefore may not recover an award.

Statute of limitations

As with most lawsuits, there is a timeline for when someone may file a claim. In North Carolina, a premises liability lawsuit must be brought within three years of the injury. If the incident happened on property owned or managed by the government, the timeline remains the same, though the claim must be filed with the North Carolina Industrial Commission.

Premises liability cases are rarely black and white. Though there are some obstacles plaintiffs must overcome to recover compensation, these suits are well worth it, especially when serious injuries occur. Anyone who has questions about this issue should speak with a personal injury attorney in North Carolina.