Caroselli, Beachler & Coleman, L.L.C.

Pennsylvania victim's pre-existing health won't excuse liability

Your elderly mother insists upon doing her own grocery shopping, even in the dead of winter. She makes a regular trip to an Allegheny County grocery store following a snowfall and falls in the store's wet entrance. Your mom already had a bad back, but the fall forced her to undergo costly surgery and long-term treatment.

Since mom already had a pre-existing condition, would she be able to file a slip and fall claim against the property owner? Absolutely. A defendant cannot wiggle out of a premises liability claim simply because a plaintiff is not in perfect health at the time of an accident. The legal difficulty for plaintiffs is to show that a new injury occurred or an old one was made worse by the property owner or operator's negligence.

The liability lawsuit accuses the real estate managers of negligence that contributed to the victim's death. The man fell at the slippery entrance to a Philadelphia apartment building in January 2012. The tenant underwent surgery for a broken hip and died, according to the claim, when the fall aggravated a heart condition and brought about a fatal cardiac arrest.

Plaintiffs stated the property owners were aware of the hazard but did nothing to take care of it. Reports did not identify the slippery substance.

The Pennsylvania slip and fall case may end up in federal court, if the defendant's notice of removal is approved. The defendants, related property management companies, are arguing the state complaint seeks damages exceeding $50,000. An award over $75,000 would bump the case into federal territory.

A plaintiff's argument may invoke what's known as the "eggshell or thin skull rule." In short, it doesn't matter whether an injured victim's skull was as fragile as an eggshell before an accident or whether the defendant knew it. The defendant may be liable for all the consequences of a negligent act.

Source:, "Wrongful death claim filed by family of apartment tenant who suffered cardiac arrest after slip-and-fall incident" Jon Campisi, Dec. 09, 2013

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