Falls are consistently the leading cause of injury-producing accidents, and account for more than 1 million injuries each year in the United States.
People fall for many reasons, many of which have nothing to do with slick floors or clumsy walkers or stepping on something.
If you have slipped or fallen on someone else’s property—business or resident—an investigator must eliminate as many causes as possible to understand causality and to determine responsibility for the accident.
Some common reasons why people fall include:
- the interaction of the actual walking surface with specific shoes
- the environment, and its distractions
- physical and mental limitations of the victim.
How you walk plays a roll. Our center of gravity (COG) changes during different activities and postures. While walking, the COG is carried alternately over the left and right foot. As our pace quickens, a moment of instability occurs when our weight is transferred.
Many people walk in distinguishing ways. The way a person walks can lead to identifiable characteristics—some of which are prone to further instability. Different walking patterns cause variations in stride.
Variations in walking should not be considered unsafe unless evidence shows they prevent the individual from maintaining balance. Stride and balance can also be affected by the inner ear, medication, and disorders of the central nervous system.
Walking is a motor skill. Once learned, we just walk. We send a message to our brain, which takes care of all the details as a whole action. We don’t actually consciously make are legs move.
Most people aren’t very conscious of changes in walking surfaces. We tend to scan 10 to 20 feet ahead of us, mostly below the level of the conscious mind.
If we don’t expect the change in walking surface, we can unexpectedly fall. Certainly, we can usually avoid a potential hazard if we consciously see it. We simply adjust our walking style to match the surface such as when we walk safely on an icy surface. The unseen hazard is what places us at the highest risk.
Businesses must advise people of any type of hazard they know we will encounter. Once we have seen the warning advisory, we assume a portion of the risk.
If a sign is posted stating the floors are wet, you are expected to adjust your walking to compensate for the possible danger of slipping.
Improper lighting can cloak a hazardous condition. Glare and too much or too little contrast in the walking environment can reduce the efficiency of the eye. There are requirements for even illumination and proper contrast of dark to light.
Properly taken photographs (pointed straight ahead instead of at the floor) can provide important insight on slip and fall accidents. The camera can pick up important details missed by the naked eye such as a dip in the floor.
Types of Falls
- Same-surface falls can be classified into four categories:
- Trip-and-fall accidents, in which pedestrians encounter a foreign object in their walking path;
- Stump-and-fall accidents, in which a moving foot encounters an impediment in the walking surface, whether it is a tacky point on the surface or a defect that impedes the foot;
- Step-and-fall accidents, in which the foot finds an unexpected failure or hole in the walking surface; and
- Slip-and-fall accidents, in which the interface of the shoe and the floor fails to support the walker’s center of gravity over the base area.
The slip and fall is the most common accident. Foot contact is broken, and the individual attempts to right himself or herself. Recovery of equilibrium is reflexive and not under conscious control in most cases. If the pedestrian strikes the surface with a fleshy part of the body, the injuries are likely to be minimal. But if the victim strikes a bony body part, the injuries may be more severe.