Non-lawyers use the phrase “slip and fall” to describe accidents that happen in businesses and other public places. If someone sustains an injury in a fall after stepping on a grape in a grocery store, they might say the injured person was involved in a slip-and-fall accident.

But slip and fall has another, more narrow meaning. It refers to the way in which the accident happened. Someone who trips on a broken step might call the accident a slip and fall, but the accident might have been a trip and fall, rather than a slip and fall.

Slips and trips differ in three respects:

  • The conditions that cause the fall
  • The mechanics of the fall
  • The injuries caused by the fall

These differences might help to explain how you were injured and determine whether someone is liable for your injuries. But the differences do not affect your ability to recover compensation for your injuries. Regardless of whether you slip or trip, your injury lawyer will need to prove negligence to an insurance company or a jury to win a settlement or damages award on your behalf.

Differences in the Causes of Slips and Trips

In a slip and fall accident, the floor surface causes the accident. Slips happen when the friction force between your foot and the floor is too low for you to maintain your footing. Some conditions that cause slips include:

  • Liquid spills
  • Rain, snow, or ice
  • Moist foods
  • Condensation
  • Wax or cleaning solutions

In a trip and fall accident, an uneven floor or obstacle causes the accident. Trips happen when these obstacles block your foot or leg from moving forward, causing you to lose your balance. Some of the situations where a trip can occur include:

  • Raised or uneven sidewalk slabs
  • Loose carpet
  • Elevated door thresholds
  • Unmarked steps up or down
  • Objects on the floor

When these conditions exist, they create a slipping or tripping hazard. The risks posed can be amplified by broken handrails, poor lighting, or a lack of warning signs.

Differences in the Mechanics of the Fall

Slips usually result in a backward fall, while trips usually result in a forward fall.

In a slip and fall accident, the foot slips forward. The body’s center of gravity shifts behind the feet, causing you to lose your balance. Without sufficient friction, the feet continue to slip forward, and the body falls backward.

As you fall, your instinct is to reach backward with your hands to try to catch yourself and protect your head. At the end of your fall, your back, buttocks, hip, and head will likely strike the ground. If you tried to catch yourself, your arms, elbows, hands, wrists, or shoulders might also feel the impact.

In a trip and fall accident, the foot hits an obstacle. The body’s center of gravity shifts ahead of the feet. You lose your balance and begin to fall forward.

Since you cannot move your foot forward to catch yourself, you throw your hands out to stop your fall. When you hit the ground, your face, head, chest, knees, hands, wrist, elbow, and arms might hit the ground. Your head may snap forward and backward on impact.

Differences in the Injuries Caused

Injuries in a slip and fall accident will differ from injuries in a trip and fall accident. In a slip and fall accident, your injuries will primarily affect the back of your body and your arms. Some common injuries include:

Back Injuries

A slip and fall can result in injuries to the vertebrae, discs, and muscles in the back. If vertebrae or discs slip out of place, they can damage, compress, or even sever the spinal cord, causing severe back injuries.

Head Injuries

When the head strikes the ground, the impact could cause bruising, cuts, or a skull fracture.

Brain Injuries

Head trauma can lead to brain injuries. The brain can suffer a concussion or contusion from the force of a head impact. A brain injury can cause long-term speech, motor, coordination, cognition, and emotional problems.

Arm and Shoulder Injuries

Shoulder injuries can result from impact with the floor or forces transmitted through the arm when you try to catch yourself. Using your arms to brace against the fall can also injure the wrists, arms, and elbows.

A different set of injuries occurs in most trip and fall accidents. In a trip and fall, you are more likely to sustain injuries to the front of your body and your arms as you try to stop your fall.

Some injuries that occur during a trip and fall include:

Facial Trauma

You could break bones in your face, including your jaw and teeth, when your face hits the ground.

Head and Neck Injuries

When you fall forward, your head could hit the ground. When your body strikes the ground, your head will also snap forward, causing your neck to extend. This will result in whiplash-like neck injuries.

Brain Injuries

The impact of your head on the ground could cause brain injuries. The violent force on your head when it strikes the ground causes your brain to slosh inside your skull. The pressure on your brain can cause a concussion, while an impact against the inside of your skull can cause a contusion.

Wrist, Hand, and Elbow Injuries

When you fall forward, you have a strong instinct to try to stop your fall by throwing your hands in front of you. The force of the impact could fracture bones, strain muscles, and tear tendons, cartilage, and ligaments in your arm, hand, wrist, and elbow.

Knee Injuries

Your knee could strike the ground during the fall. This could dislocate your patella or cause other knee damage.

Proving Liability for a Fall

A fall that occurs on someone else’s property might trigger premises liability. In Alabama, a property owner or tenant is not automatically responsible for accidents. Instead, you must prove that the person or business was negligent. Some ways a property owner may negligently cause a fall include:

  • Failure to exercise reasonable care to discover the hazard
  • Failure to take reasonable steps to fix the hazard after discovery
  • Failure to warn guests of a hazard
  • Creating or worsening the hazard by acting unreasonably
  • Failure to train employees to take reasonable steps to deal with hazards

To successfully establish liability, your injury lawyer will also need to prove the negligence caused your injury. Once these elements are established, your damages from the fall should be compensated.