Slipping, tripping or falling in a restaurant can undoubtedly be an extremely embarrassing experience that can spoil an otherwise pleasant meal. On some occasions people are unfortunate enough to suffer an injury as a result of such a fall.
A fall in a restaurant resulting in an injury does not however guarantee a successful personal injury claim. It is often the case that a person’s fall and consequent injury is no more an unfortunate accident which cannot be blamed on the restaurant’s owner or its staff. Some such accidents are, however, quite clearly due to the negligence of the restaurant which owes a duty to maintain its premises in a reasonably clean and safe state for customers and employees. That is to say that a restaurant proprietor has a legal duty of care toward the victim.
Broadly speaking the restaurant owner is required to take what can be defined as “reasonable” steps to avoid trips and slips occurring on his or her premises. It is of course impossible to ensure that such accidents will never happen and the restaurateur is protected in law against spurious or unjustified claims. If for example a customer slips on an item of food that fell on the floor a matter of seconds beforehand a court may find that there was no negligence on the part of the restaurant as the accident was unavoidable. In contrast however, if the same piece of food had fallen on the floor one hour prior to the accident and staff had neglected to clean it up it may be argued that this constitutes negligence on the part of the restaurant and that the accident was completely avoidable.
Injury or damage
A slip or fall in a restaurant, even when the proprietor has quite clearly been negligent does not automatically entitle the victim to compensation. When one makes a personal injury compensation claim it is of course necessary to have indeed suffered an injury. The plaintiff must have suffered either a physical or psychological injury as a result of the subject fall in the restaurant. A near miss is insufficient to merit an award of compensation.
The injury sustained must be the consequence of the negligence of the restaurant owner or staff who are expected to provide a safe environment for customers.
For example if Michael falls down stairs in a restaurant and suffers a broken leg, his claim against the restaurant owner may be unsuccessful if the stairs conformed with the relevant health and safety legislation and there were no other negligent acts on the part of the restaurant. The judge may well rule that Michael was responsible for his own injury because he was careless or simply unfortunate.
In brief, if the restaurant proprietor has not been negligent (even when an injury has occurred) there is no claim against him.
The court may decide that both the defendant and the plaintiff were partially to blame for the plaintiff’s injury. In such circumstances the principle of contributory negligence applies.
Contributory negligence is the legal principle that the claimant may have contributed to his or her own injury by behaving in a negligent manner when faced with the obvious and known conditions. When compared with the negligence of the defendant, the extent of contributory negligence may render the plaintiff’s case unsuccessful or reduce the amount of compensation awarded.
If we take the above example of Michael’s restaurant fall but assume that there was a defect in the stairs in question e.g. the handrail was damaged or broken, he potentially has a successful claim. If, however, it can be proven that Michael was in fact drunk at the time he fell it could be argued that he contributed to his own accident and therefore the compensation awarded may be reduced by a percentage deemed appropriate by the court.
Have the incident recorded in the accident report book
When a slip, trip or fall occurs in a restaurant it should be noted that the proprietor should keep an accident report book on the premises. Ask for details of the accident to be recorded immediately. Your solicitor will later request copies of the accident report book together with any CCTV footage of the incident which will be used as evidence to support your claim. Should the restaurant in question neglect to keep an accident report book on the premises this is not necessarily damaging to your case as the court may feel that this reflects a general atmosphere of negligence on the part of the restaurant.
Make use of your phone’s camera
It is a good idea to use the camera and/or video function present on your cell phone to record images of that part of the restaurant where the accident occurred to show precisely what we tripped or slipped on.
Don’t admit liability
If possible try not to discuss liability for the accident immediately following your restaurant fall. One should try to remain polite and ask a member of staff to record the details in the accident report book without admitting any responsibility for the accident.
Your health and safety is more important than any personal injury compensation claim. If you have been seriously hurt an ambulance should be called to the restaurant immediately.
Always report to the casualty department of your nearest hospital or, at the very minimum, make an emergency appointment with your general practitioner following a restaurant fall. This is particularly important if you have struck your head when you fell. Even if it seems that your injuries are not particularly serious it is still advisable to see a Doctor. Never underestimate peace of mind. Financial compensation is no substitute for your health and well-being.
Attendance at hospital or with your G.P. will be recorded in your medical records which may later be used in evidence by your solicitor to support your claim.
It is important to note that each case is unique. If you have been unfortunate enough to have suffered a fall in a restaurant and feel that you have a potential personal injury claim you are advised to discuss all of the points raised in the preceding article with a solicitor at the earliest opportunity.
Copyright © 2009-2015 Eoin Campbell
About the Author
Eoin P. Campbell is an honours law graduate (LL.B) and qualified solicitor whose professional experience is in the area of litigation and in particular personal injury claims. Eoin P. Campbell is currently lecturing in law at two universities in Lyon, France.