If you experienced a slip and fall on a public surface, chances are you were wearing shoes. Were they appropriate for the conditions you encountered or the job you were hired to perform? These details may seem insignificant at first but, if you decide to pursue a slip and fall claim, the defendant’s legal team could question your choice of footwear. 1) For instance, wearing shoes with worn-out treads or friction-reducing soles could deflect some of the blame for the accident on you.

If your choice of footwear is believed to have played a factor in your injury, you could receive a reduced settlement. To anticipate this possibility, it’s a good idea to preserve the evidence, in the event your footwear or certain items of clothing come into question. Here’s what you should know.

Footwear & Comparative Negligence

Bongiorno v. Americorp. is an often cited example of comparative negligence involving footwear. After falling down on an allegedly “unusually slippery” floor when entering a bathroom, plaintiff Bongiorno sued property owner Americorp. The defense claimed the plaintiff was wearing four- to five-inch heels, which partially contributed to her injuries.

Although the court rejected the defendant’s arguments and awarded Bongiorno the full amount, the case exemplifies how a defendant can attempt to assign fault to a plaintiff for his or her footwear choices.

What Footwear Should Do

A pair of shoes or boots should be in sound condition and allow the wearer to walk comfortably without losing one’s balance. As such, soles should offer a reasonable amount of traction, especially on slippery surfaces.

Although styles differ and certain shoes are inappropriate for certain environments, the pair you select should provide reliable stability when you walk across a maintained sidewalk or carpeted indoor surface.

Nevertheless, footwear design could play a factor in a slip and fall case in a number of ways:

  • Defective Footwear Design: Several years ago, “toning shoes” were introduced to increase the results of leg and glute exercises. Unfortunately, the oddly shaped design led many wearers to fall down and experience ankle injuries. In these instances, the case could turn into a product liability lawsuit against the shoe manufacturer.
  • Residue On the Bottom: For instance, a company waxed its floors or used a similar cleaning solution. As a result, the substance unknowingly got on client’s shoes, reducing traction and contributing to a slip and fall injury.
  • Old, Worn-Out Shoes: The plaintiff was wearing an older pair of shoes with part of the sole worn away, to the point it affected the traction. Especially in slippery conditions, the lack of traction on the shoe increases the chances the wearer will slip on a low-friction surface, like a patch of ice or a wet floor.

In these instances, the defendant is attempting to play down their responsibility. Property owners should have a plan to identify slippery surfaces, including a visible warning and improvements to the situation. They should also:

  • Make sure their building’s floors have an adequate amount of slip resistance. A wet, overly waxed or otherwise contaminated surface presents such a hazard.
  • Put together a temporary solution to improve slip resistance. A common one is adding slip-resistant mats or strips.
  • Ensure everyone can see and avoid the slippery surface, should a spill occur.
  • Specify which types of footwear employees should wear on the job to avoid slip and fall injuries.

Studies have shown that footwear and surface quality go hand-in-hand, in terms of safety:

  • Shoe treads are key when a surface has decreased friction, but not all treads are created equal. Particularly in wet conditions, grooves perpendicular to the friction direction have a higher coefficient of friction (ACOF) than those running parallel.
  • Greater tread depth and width in an oblique orientation perform better on slippery surfaces than other types. However, bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better and researchers found that treads 6mm wide by 6mm deep do not increase slip resistance on low-friction surfaces.
  • Looking at fast-food settings, researchers found that requiring workers to wear slip-resistant shoes decreased slip and fall injuries by 54 percent. Less-slippery floors with a higher coefficient of friction also helped decrease slip and fall injuries.
  • The front of the shoe’s edge may influence if and how the shoe could “catch” on a particular surface.

When Clothing Plays a Factor

In some instances, the plaintiff’s footwear has sufficient traction, but his or her pants have covered the heel or get easily caught on other objects, thus increasing the chance of a slip and fall injury. Although clothing is less likely to play a role, it could under the following conditions:

  • The victim was wearing pants with longer cuffs that cover or slip under the heel of the shoe.
  • The hem is flared, rather than hemmed or close-cropped, increasing the chance the pants could catch onto something.
  • Other features on the pants, such as holes or distressing, could easily catch onto or get tangled with something else.

What to Do After a Slip and Fall Injury

Be sure to preserve your shoes and pants after an injury; the defense could request them for evidence or testing. Place each in separate containers or sealed plastic bags, taking care to not wash or scrape anything off the material.

Because items can be stolen, damaged or lost, take pictures of your shoes and pants from multiple angles to preserve evidence and support your statement, should your footwear come into question. In this case, evidence helps:

  • Indicate if grease or a similar substance got onto the bottom of your shoes or pants and decreased its slip resistance.
  • Establish the heel height.
  • Determine the tread quality and if your shoes display other signs of wear.
  • Determine if your shoes were appropriate for the environment.
  • Find defects that affect the stability and traction of your shoes.

To further show your shoes played a minimal or nonexistent role in your injuries, always take pictures of the area you fell, showing the conditions at the time of the incident.
If you were injured after falling on a slippery surface, turn to Trantolo & Trantolo to prove the property owner or building manager neglected the public a duty of care. To start your claim, contact one of our slip and fall lawyers today.