A common question I get when someone has a slip and fall accident at a store or someone else’s property is who is responsible for their injuries and medical bills. Many people believe that if they fall or are hurt on other another’s property the owner of the property is responsible for any injuries or medical bills. This is a misconception and these cases are typically very tough to win in North Carolina.
The law is clear that owners of real property are not responsible for the safety of visitors. Rather, owners of real property only have a duty to ensure the property is reasonably safe and to tell visitors if there are any “latent defects” in the property, or defects that could not be found upon reasonable inspection. What that means is if a person steps in a hole that is “open and obvious” or slips in a pool of water that one can see if keeping a reasonable lookout, the property owner is not responsible.
For example, if you were walking through a parking lot after a snowstorm and fell because it is slick, this would not be the fault of the property owner because they have no duty to warn that the snow makes the parking lot slick. However, if a person is walking down the stairs from his apartment and the stairs collapse because, unknown to him, the stairs are in need of repair, the property owner is probably responsible for any injuries.
As if the law of liability was not tough enough, North Carolina is also one of five jurisdictions in the United States that still follows the doctrine of contributory negligence. Contributory negligence means that the person who slips and falls, regardless of fault by the property owner, was not using due care, or not keeping a reasonable lookout. So, let’s go back to the stairs. If the stairs are in need of repair, but it is obvious the stairs are not safe, a person might be blocked by his own contributory negligence by using the stairs and be at fault.