Bathtub and shower areas, by nature, are prone to being wet, slippery surfaces, which are made especially hazardous given that most have hard tile or porcelain floors.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in a recent study that an estimated 234,100 hospital patients age 15 or older were treated in emergency rooms in 2008 because of bathroom injuries. Of those, nearly 82 percent were caused by falls.
At Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, our veteran premises liability attorneys have handled numerous cases in which people were injured by falling in a bathroom at a hotel, restaurant, vacation rental, gym, hospital or nursing home. While some defendants argue the danger is open and obvious – people should expect the floors to be wet – the fact is these places still have a duty to minimize risk and keep areas in reasonably safe condition.
Knowing that bathrooms have a tendency to pose a slip-and-fall risk to patrons, property owners can take simple measures to reduce that risk. Those might include:
- Routine cleaning/maintenance;
- Installation of non-slip mats inside the shower or tub;
- Installation of a bench or chair inside the shower;
- Have safety bars inside the bathroom;
- Putting carpet or non-slip mats near sinks, toilets or tubs to reduce the risk of a fall;
- Posting signs warning of the wet floor.
Although the CDC focused on bathroom fall risks posed to older teens and adults, children too are at risk for serious injury in these cases.
For example, a 2009 study conducted by the Ohio State College of Medicine found that 43,000 children were injured in bathtubs and showers annually. More than half of those children were under the age of 4, and the vast majority of incidents were the result of slip-and-falls.
While children in that age range should always be supervised in the bathroom, property owners who fail to take basic steps to mitigate that danger may be held responsible too.
Although small children are at high risk, elderly adults have the greatest risk of serious injury caused by a bathtub fall or shower fall. Not only are they more likely to fall, they are more likely to suffer more severe consequences when they do. For example, a slip-and-fall that might cause a bruise in a 25-year-old could lead to broken bones for a 70-year-old.
The National Institutes of Health reports people who have an especially high risk of injury from a shower fall include:
- Seniors who have limited mobility as a result of compromised joints;
- Those with muscles weakened by aging or rehabilitation;
- Individuals with physical disabilities that affect movement.
The CDC study also indicated that the rate of falling was 72 percent higher for women than men.
Researchers determined the most common primary parts of the body injured in shower and bathtub falls were the head and neck, including traumatic brain injury and spinal cord injury. Other common injuries include:
Broken bones (hip fractures are known to be especially hazardous);
- Abrasions and contusions;
- Damage to internal injuries;
Identifying liability in a bathroom slip-and-fall will depend heavily on individual circumstances. As previously mentioned, guests should know that bathtubs and shower stalls are inherently slippery and possibly dangerous. Therefore, they have a responsibility to reasonably protect themselves. This called the “open and obvious” doctrine.
On the other hand, property owners also know about the risk, making it a foreseeable one. If the owner or manager of the site, having this knowledge, fails to take even minimal steps to prevent harm, he or she could be open to a lawsuit. Negligence occurs when the owner or manager:
- Causes the dangerous condition in the bathroom;
- Knew about the hazardous condition, but didn’t do anything to fix it;
- Claims ignorance of the problem, but should have known about it because it would have been discovered in the exercise of reasonable care and maintenance of the bathroom.
In litigation, numerous bathroom fall defendants have denied liability on the basis of “open and obvious” danger. But this defense has failed on many occasions, including Matouk v. Marriot Hotel Services Inc., wherein a plaintiff sued after she slipped and fell in a shower that had no bath mat or handrail (except outside of the shower, out-of-reach). Plaintiff claimed negligent design, construction and maintenance of the tub, failure to provide an anti-slip mat, failure to install reasonable protection in the form of a rigid shower door or grab bar and placement of a towel and holder in an unreasonable area. The hotel owner moved to dismiss, citing open and obvious danger. The court rejected this theory on the basis that it’s only applicable when plaintiff argues failure-to-warn. However, she was asserting the chain failed to remedy a known danger.
These cases can be more complex than one might suspect, so it’s important to contact an experienced premises liability law firm in Southwest Florida as soon as possible after a serious fall.
If you or a loved one has been a victim of a shower or bathtub fall in Southwest Florida, contact Associates and Bruce L. Scheiner, Attorneys for the Injured, for a free and confidential consultation to discuss your rights. There are no fees or costs unless we win. Offices in Fort Myers, Cape Coral, Naples and Port Charlotte.