Slip and fall accidents on public property happen all the time. They can cause various types of injuries, from minor sprains to permanent or even life-threatening conditions. These accidents can occur for multiple reasons, such as lax maintenance, hazardous obstacles, or poor lighting. 

While the causes of slip and fall accidents on public property and the resulting injuries are the same as on private property, the legal aspects are different. Understanding these differences can help an accident victim understand their rights. Below, we’ll explain the key differences and how they can impact your claim if you are seriously injured in a slip and fall accident on public property.

Definition and Overview

Slip and fall accidents can happen to anyone, regardless of age or health status. A slip and fall accident occurs when the surface you are walking on is slippery, uneven, or hazardous. Other contributing factors include poorly lit areas, debris or construction materials that create an obstacle. In short, a slip and fall accident is any accident that occurs on someone else’s property where the owner is deemed negligent.

Public property is one of the most common areas where slip and fall accidents happen. Public properties are those owned or operated by the municipal, state or federal government, such as schools, libraries, parks, and buildings. The most common causes of slip and fall accidents on public property are wet floors, uneven pavements, potholes, and loose carpets. These hazards can cause serious injuries, such as broken bones, head trauma, and spinal cord injuries.

Slip and fall accidents on public property are often due to a lack of maintenance. The government is responsible for maintaining their public properties to be safe for citizens to use. Unfortunately, many larger cities are understaffed or underfunded to keep up with the maintenance demands of all their public facilities. This neglect can lead to dangerous conditions for pedestrians, resulting in accidents.

In California, the area of personal injury law that addresses fault (liability, in legal terms) is known as premises liability and negligence. Understanding these principles is crucial in determining fault and seeking compensation for damages.

Premises Liability

In California, premises liability refers to the legal responsibility of the property owner to maintain a safe environment for visitors, tenants, or customers. This duty applies to public spaces, commercial properties, and residential units. To establish premises liability in a slip and fall accident, the injured party must prove that the owner knew or should have known about the dangerous condition that caused the fall and failed to take reasonable action to remedy it. 

Some of the most common hazards that can lead to liability include: 

  • Wet floors
  • Uneven surfaces
  • Loose carpets
  • Poor lighting

The duty of care varies depending on the circumstances, such as the type of property and the anticipated use of the space. For instance, an owner of a store has a higher duty to ensure customers’ safety than a landlord who rents out a residential property.


Negligence is another legal concept that can apply to slip and fall accidents on public property. Negligence refers to a failure to exercise reasonable care in preventing foreseeable harm to others. To establish negligence, the injured party must show that the responsible party had a duty to protect them from harm, breached that duty by acting or failing to act in a certain way, and caused the injury as a direct result of their actions or inaction. 

In slip and fall accidents, negligence can be established by showing the responsible party created the hazardous condition, knew about it, failed to address it, or should have known about it based on their duty of care.

Comparative Fault

In California, the doctrine of comparative fault can also affect liability in slip and fall cases on public property. Comparative fault refers to the idea that more than one party can contribute to an accident, and each party’s share of fault can affect the amount of damages they can recover. For example, if the injured person was partially responsible for the fall because they were distracted or failed to heed warning signs, their recovery can be reduced by the percentage of their fault. However, even if the injured person is partially at fault, they can still recover damages for their injuries in California.

Statute of Limitations

One of the biggest differences between slip and fall accidents on public versus private property is the time limit for filing a claim, which is known as the statute of limitations. When filing a lawsuit in California, it’s crucial to know the specific statute of limitations that applies to claims against public entities. This timeframe differs significantly from the general statute of limitations for personal injury claims.

The statute of limitations for claims against public entities is much shorter in the Golden State. In most cases, individuals have only six months from the accident date to file an initial claim with the government agency responsible for the property. This is the first step in any lawsuit against a public entity. 

Failing to file this claim within the six-month window can stop the injured person from pursuing compensation for their damages. Therefore, anyone injured in a slip and fall accident on public property in California should hire a personal injury attorney right away.  The attorney will be well versed in the time limits and additional documentation involved in filing a slip and fall accident claim on public property.

Responsibility of Public Entities

Public entities such as city governments have a clear responsibility to ensure that their premises are safe for use by members of the public. This duty of care involves the regular maintenance and inspection of public properties to identify and rectify potential hazards. The responsibility extends to ensuring that the premises are reasonably safe from dangers, including wet floors, uneven walkways, and poorly lit areas. 

If a public entity fails in this duty, and a slip and fall accident occurs, the entity can be held liable for the injury. However, it’s important to note that the injured party must be able to demonstrate that the public entity knew about or should have known about the hazard and failed to take appropriate action within a reasonable time frame. 

This duty of care requires public entities to regularly maintain and inspect their properties to identify and address potential hazards. Hazards can include but are not limited to, wet floors, uneven walkways, and poorly lit areas. Liability may be established if a slip and fall accident occurs due to the entity’s failure to address these hazards. However, the injured party must demonstrate that the public entity knew or should have known about the danger and failed to act within a reasonable timeframe.

For public entities like schools or libraries, this duty extends to employee conduct, ensuring that their actions do not increase the risk of accidents. This comprehensive approach to public safety and welfare is crucial to a public entity’s responsibilities.

To establish liability in a slip and fall case, the plaintiff must prove the following:

  1. A dangerous condition existed on public property.
  2. The dangerous condition was the cause of the injury.
  3. The public entity had actual or constructive notice of the condition. Constructive notice implies that the condition was present long enough for the entity to discover and rectify it reasonably.

Public property includes sidewalks, streets, highways, and parking lots under the control of the public entity. However, California law often places the maintenance responsibility for sidewalks on adjoining landowners. Therefore, these landowners may be liable for accidents due to improper sidewalk maintenance, adding complexity to questions of who was at fault.

Furthermore, public entities must regularly inspect their properties to ensure safety. They must keep detailed records of these inspections, including findings and subsequent actions. In slip and fall cases, plaintiffs can request these records to establish the public entity’s knowledge of the dangerous condition leading to the accident.

Injury Types and Medical Considerations

Slip and fall accidents can cause a wide range of injuries, the severity of which can vary from minor to life-threatening. These injuries, especially for elderly victims, often have significant medical implications, requiring immediate and sometimes ongoing treatment.

Head Injuries

Head injuries are among the most severe injuries resulting from slip and fall accidents. They can range in severity from mild concussions to more serious traumatic brain injuries. Traumatic brain injuries can have long-term effects on an individual’s speech, mobility, and cognitive abilities. This is why immediate medical attention is crucial following a head injury. A CT scan or MRI may be required to determine the extent of the injury, and treatment options might include surgery, medication, or occupational therapy.

Hip Fractures

Hip fractures are also common injuries in slip and fall accidents, particularly among senior citizens. Hip fractures can cause significant pain and impairment of mobility, with some individuals taking several months to recover. In some cases, surgery might be required to repair the fracture, followed by physical therapy to aid recovery. 

If the victim is a senior citizen, however, a hip fracture can have negative long-term effects on the individual’s overall health and quality of life, including an increased risk of falls and subsequent fractures.

Spinal Cord Injuries

Spinal cord injuries due to slip and fall accidents can be challenging to diagnose and treat. The spinal cord is a delicate and vital body part that transmits messages from the brain to various parts. Depending on the location and extent of the injury, spinal cord injuries can cause paralysis, loss of sensation, and even chronic pain. Treatment options may include surgery, medication, and physical therapy, and ongoing medical monitoring may be required to avoid further complications.

Sprains and Strains

Sprains and strains are other common injuries from slip and fall accidents. They can occur in various body parts, including the wrist, ankle, and knee. While these injuries are often less serious than head injuries or fractures, they can still be quite debilitating and lead to major pain and discomfort. Rest, ice, and physical therapy are often recommended to aid recovery and prevent further injury.

Cuts and Bruises

Cuts and bruises are the most minor injuries from slip and fall accidents. However, while they might seem insignificant, they should not be overlooked. Even minor cuts can infect, and severe bruising can cause significant discomfort, especially in older patients. Proper cleaning and dressing of wounds are essential to prevent infection, while rest and pain management measures can help alleviate discomfort.

Steps to Take After an Accident

Immediately following a slip and fall accident on public property, taking specific steps to ensure your safety and protect your rights is crucial. 

Seek Medical Attention

The first step after a slip and fall accident is to seek medical attention. Even if you don’t feel any immediate pain or discomfort, getting medical attention as soon as possible is crucial. Slip and fall accidents can sometimes cause injuries that are not immediately apparent, such as internal or traumatic brain injuries. Getting checked by a medical professional will help you understand the extent of your injuries and ensure you receive the necessary treatment.

Document the Scene

After seeking medical attention, the next step is to document the scene. Only do this if you are well enough to do so. Taking photos of the accident scene is crucial as it provides evidence of what caused it. This includes pictures of the hazardous conditions that caused the fall, such as a wet floor or a broken stair. Also, try to get the names and contact information of any witnesses to the incident. Witness statements can help establish liability and are important pieces of evidence for your slip and fall claim.

Report the Accident

Another essential step to take after a slip and fall accident is to report it to the relevant authorities. Typically, this means notifying the supervisor or manager where the accident occurred. Reporting the accident creates an official record of what happened, which can help strengthen your case if you decide to pursue legal action.

Preserve Evidence

Keep any clothing or personal items on you when you fall, and do not wash them. These items might serve as evidence of the conditions at the accident scene. Keep any medical documents or records related to your treatment, as they can help establish the extent of your injuries and the associated costs.

Consult a Lawyer

Lastly, consulting with a personal injury attorney immediately after a slip and fall accident on public property is essential. An experienced slip and fall accident attorney can evaluate your case and help you understand your legal options. They can guide you through the process of filing a claim and work to ensure that you receive the necessary compensation for any damages because of your accident.

Filing a lawsuit against a government entity for a slip and fall accident involves more paperwork and shorter deadlines compared to the same type of accident on private property. Your personal injury attorney will file a lawsuit against the government agency in question. They will also file all needed documentation and negotiate with said agency responsible for the property in question. And if the agency refuses to make a fair offer for your injuries, your personal injury attorney will go to trial on your behalf.

Hire a Personal Injury Lawyer

Hire a personal injury lawyer quickly after your slip and fall accident, especially if you suffered serious injuries. Personal injury lawyers are experts in handling slip and fall accidents and can guide you through the legal process. They can help gather evidence and assess the value of your claim. Moreover, most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, which means they only get paid if you win the case. This way, you won’t have to worry about upfront costs or legal fees.

Filing a Claim

After an accident, the first step towards seeking compensation is filing a claim with the at-fault party’s insurance company. Your attorney will handle this step. The claim will detail the accident, the injuries sustained, and the damages you seek. This should include medical expenses, lost wages, and any other costs related to the accident. Your personal injury attorney will go over the amount to ask for with you before filing a claim on your behalf.


Once the claim is filed, the negotiation process begins. The insurance company will review your claim and accept, reject, or propose a counter-settlement. If the insurance company’s offer is too low, your attorney may negotiate for a higher settlement. This process can take several rounds until an acceptable offer is made.


If negotiations fail, your attorney will file a complaint in the appropriate court, outlining the facts of your case and your claim for damages. The defendant will then be served with the lawsuit and has a chance to respond. 

Discovery Process

Following this, both parties will enter the discovery process to exchange information and evidence. This may include documents, witness statements, and depositions. During this stage, your attorney will prepare for trial, including gathering evidence and planning a legal strategy.


If the case doesn’t settle during or after discovery, it will proceed to trial. Note that most cases do not go to trial, but it can happen. Both parties will present their case at trial, and the judge or jury will decide the outcome. If you are successful, the court will award a judgment in your favor, determining the amount of compensation you are entitled to.

It’s important to note that each case is unique, and the process may vary depending on the specifics of your situation. An experienced attorney can guide you through this process, ensuring your rights are protected, and you receive the compensation you deserve.

Impact on Different Age Groups

Slip and fall accidents have distinct impacts on different age groups, with severity and recovery times often varying based on the individual’s age. 

Young Adults and Children

Young adults and children who fall may escape with bruises, scrapes, or minor sprains, which can heal in a few days or weeks. However, if the fall is from a significant height or while engaging in risky activities, severe injuries like broken bones, head injuries, or back injuries can occur.

Middle-aged Adults

Middle-aged adults are susceptible to falls resulting from work-related routines or lifestyle factors. The strain on muscles and joints, poor posture, and obesity can all increase the risk of a slip or fall. Furthermore, middle-aged individuals often have a busy schedule and may postpone crucial medical treatments until they are seriously injured.


The elderly are most vulnerable to slip and fall accidents and injuries. The CDC reports that over 14 million, or one out of four Americans aged 65 years and older, experience a slip and fall accident each year. Falls are the most common cause of fatal and non-fatal injuries among the elderly. The elderly have a greater chance of suffering a slip and fall accident due to several factors. Some of these include mobility limitations, cognitive decline, vision impairments, medication side effects, and heightened fragility. 

Fractures, head injuries, hip and pelvic fractures are some of the most common injuries that the elderly sustain in slip and fall accidents. These injuries, in turn, can lead to severe complications like chronic pain, functional limitations, and decreased mobility. Those over 65 often have slower healing times, which leads to longer hospital stays and extended recovery times. Moreover, recovery times can sometimes be complicated by pre-existing conditions like arthritis, diabetes, osteoporosis, or weakened immune systems.

Get the Representation You Deserve

Slip and fall accidents on public property can cause severe injuries and involve lots of red tape. Understanding your rights and responsibilities in these situations is critical. If you or a loved one has suffered such an accident, taking appropriate steps immediately, including hiring a personal injury lawyer, is crucial. 

The Dominguez Firm is ready to assist you in navigating these complex types of personal injury claims. With over 30 years of experience and a 96%* success rate, we’re committed to helping you understand your options and seek just compensation. Don’t navigate this process alone; let our expertise guide you. Contact us today for a free consultation at (800) 818-1818

My experience was good. They made sure to kept me in the loop and made sure to let me know what was going on the whole time. My mom has used other attorneys and this experience was beyond better. I would definitely recommend them!

— Ashley Magana

The attorneys were always available and answered my questions. I would recommend them to anyone. Zoe is the best!

— Janet Salazar

My experience with The Dominguez Firm and the attorneys was really good. They were very informative and always returned my calls.

— Jocelyn Gonzalez