Although slipping on a banana peel has been a staple of slapstick comedy for more than a century, as with many jokes, this falls into the category of funny unless it happens to you. In fact, this gag is rooted in a historical problem: banana peels once littered the city streets of the U.S., causing serious injuries and even death.
Banana peels are a great example of how seemingly harmless things can actually be dangerous conditions that cause serious injuries. When does an injured person have a premises liability claim? As we lawyers like to say, it depends.
The general rule in Pennsylvania is: if you are injured on someone else’s property, you may have a premises liability claim against the property owner if the injury was due to wrongdoing or negligence on the owner’s part.
Let’s look at the rule piece by piece, using an iconic example to help us understand. Charlie Chaplin, in “By the Sea,” is standing in front of a store or restaurant, eating a banana. He throws the peel on the ground and a moment later, slips on it. He seems slightly disoriented, stands up, puts a hand to his forehead.
- If you are injured: Common ways people become injured on another person’s property include slip and falls, trip and falls, being hit with a falling object, and elevator or escalator malfunctions. To win a premises liability lawsuit in Pennsylvania, you must prove that your injuries caused you actual damage, meaning, because of your injuries, you had to pay medical bills or you lost wages or future earning capacity, or you had pain and suffering, loss of life’s pleasures, embarrassment, humiliation, mental distress or physical impairment.
Was Mr. Chaplin injured? Although he gets up right away after slipping, he does seem disoriented, and puts a hand to his head. Sometimes injuries are apparent right away, but sometimes they aren’t felt until hours, or even days, after the fact. If Mr. Chaplin feels disoriented over the next several days, or if he develops symptoms that cause him to see a doctor and/or miss work, he could very well have actual damages caused by his injury. As long as a doctor relates your injuries to the initial incident, you may be able to pursue a claim, even if you don’t start experiencing symptoms until days later.
- On someone else’s property: A premises liability injury can occur in a variety of locations, including, but not limited to, the inside of a business, on construction sites, in parking lots, on sidewalks, in the street, in and around apartments, rental houses and private residences. As long as you don’t own the property, it is most likely someone else’s property.
Was Mr. Chaplin on someone else’s property? He is standing on a sidewalk in front of a store or restaurant. This appears to be someone else’s property.
- You may have a premises liability claim: “May” is the key word here. Many factors determine if you have a viable claim or not. That is why it is important to contact the experienced premises liability lawyers at Aversa & Linn immediately after an injury, to discuss your ability to pursue a claim.
Does Mr. Chaplin have a claim? It is not clear yet. We need to look at the other elements of the rule.
- Against the property owner: More than one person or entity may responsible for the area where your injury occurred. In addition to the property owner, other potentially liable parties include a tenant, a construction company, a security company, a property management company, manufacturers of dangerous or defective building materials, government entities responsible for public facilities and someone whose intentional, criminal actions caused your injuries while on the property.
Who might be responsible for Mr. Chaplin’s injury? It could be the building owner, the business who is leasing the property, or the city.
- If the injury was due to wrongdoing: Wrongdoing is someone intentionally trying to harm another person.
Was Mr. Chaplin injured due to wrongdoing? The scene shows him eating a banana, throwing the peel on the ground, then immediately slipping on it. If someone had purposefully thrown a banana peel right in front of Mr. Chaplin, he could perhaps claim he was injured due to wrongdoing, but there is no evidence of wrongdoing in the scene.
- Or if the injury was due to negligence: Negligence is when a property owner fails to exercise reasonable care to protect visitors from conditions that present an unreasonable risk of harm. To win a claim based on negligence, the injured person must show that the property owner owed them a duty of care, that the property owner breached this duty, and the breach caused the injury.
Was Mr. Chaplin’s injury due to negligence? Did the property owner fail to exercise reasonable care in this situation, and did that failure cause the injury?
No, Mr. Chaplin’s own negligence caused his injury. He ate the banana, threw the peel on the ground, and slipped a moment afterwards. What if Mr. Chaplin had walked away after throwing the banana peel to the ground and someone else came, slipped and was injured? Depending on the circumstances, Mr. Chaplin, the property owner, the business owner and/or the City could all potentially be held responsible for the damages related to the injury. That is why it is important to contact Aversa & Linn as soon as possible after you have suffered an injury on someone else’s property.
If you have been injured on someone else’s property, contact Aversa & Linn. Our experienced attorneys know what questions to ask to evaluate your particular claim.
 You can read a thorough history of the danger of the banana peel here: https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/can-you-slip-banana-peel
Although Charlie Chaplin is credited with first putting this gag on film, it was a well-known gag for many years prior to his release of “By the Sea” in 1915.