Home Costa Rica Legal TopicsCivil Law Civil Liability for Slip and Fall Accidents in Costa Rica. Comparing the United States and Costa Rica systems

Civil Liability for Slip and Fall Accidents in Costa Rica. Comparing the United States and Costa Rica systems

by rpetersen

Comparing personal injury laws between the United States and Costa Rica involves examining various aspects, including legal principles, compensation systems, and procedural differences.

Legal Principles

  • United States (U.S.): The U.S. operates under a common law system, and personal injury cases often involve the principles of negligence. Compensation is based on the concept of fault, where the injured party must prove that the defendant’s negligent actions caused their injuries.
  • Costa Rica: Costa Rica  follows a civil law system, and its legal principles may differ. The concept of fault is crucial in determining liability. The injured party generally needs to establish that the defendant’s actions (or inaction) were the direct cause of the harm.

In Costa Rica the legal foundation of civil liability system stems from Article 41 of the Political Constitution, which states: “Seeking recourse in the laws, everyone must find redress for injuries or damages they have suffered in their person, property, or moral interests.” This norm incorporates the principle – and guarantee – of indemnity for the individual and their assets, meaning that any violation obligates compensation or indemnification to the aggrieved party. The constitutional provision, “Seeking recourse in the laws” means that the  interested party must substantiate the essential elements to obtain compensation.

Then we have Article 1045 of the Civil Code which is undoubtedly subjective and states that: “Anyone who, through fraud, fault, negligence, or recklessness, causes harm to another is obligated to repair it along with the damages.”

Compensation System

  • U.S.: The U.S. has a complex system for compensating personal injury victims. Damages may include economic damages (medical expenses, lost wages) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering). Some states also recognize punitive damages in cases of extreme negligence.
  • Costa Rica: Compensation in Costa Rica typically covers medical expenses, loss of earnings, and pain and suffering. Punitive damages are not as common, and the emphasis is often on compensating the victim rather than punishing the wrongdoer.

Insurance and Liability

  • U.S.: Many personal injury claims in the U.S. involve insurance companies who have provided liability insurance to the insured.
  • Costa Rica: In Costa Rica the use of liability insurance is not as prevalent as the United States.  While many larger retailers will carry liability insurance most of the smaller ones won’t have it. 

Statute of Limitations

  • U.S.: The time limits for filing a personal injury lawsuit vary by state but generally range from one to six years. Missing the deadline can result in the loss of the right to seek compensation.
  • Costa Rica: The statute of limitations for personal injury cases in Costa Rica depends on the type of injury and the basis of the claim.  It can go from 1 to 10 years.

Court Procedures

  • U.S.: Personal injury cases in the U.S. can be resolved through negotiation, mediation, or litigation. Trials may involve a judge or jury, and the outcome can significantly vary based on jurisdiction.
  • Costa Rica: The legal process in Costa Rica may involve attempts at settlement, and if a resolution is not reached, the case proceeds to court. Trials are heard by a judge rather than a jury.  Costa Rica does not have the expanded rules of discovery that are typical in the United States.

Case Law Examples in Costa Rica

Most of the case law available involves injuries caused in supermarkets.  In addition to the civil code provisions already discussed the courts have applied the Costa Rica Consumer Protection Law.  Specifically: “The producer, supplier, and trader must concurrently and independently be liable, regardless of fault, if the consumer is harmed due to the good or service, inadequate or insufficient information about them, or their use and risks. Only those who prove they were not involved in the damage are exempt. The legal representatives of commercial establishments or, as applicable, those in charge of the business, are responsible for their own acts or deeds or those of their dependents or assistants. ”

Falling over some boxes

Court:  SECOND CIVIL COURT SECTION I. Resolution No. 00035 – 2009. Resolution Date: January 21, 2009, at 9:40 a.m. Case File: 02-100634-0417-CI. Type of Matter: Ordinary Process.”

Facts:   In the Palí supermarket in Roble, Puntarenas, the plaintiff experienced a fall when she tripped over some boxes. Upon falling, her knees struck the floor, resulting in a wound caused by a broken bottle she was carrying. The plaintiff’s injury was lacerating, and sutures were administered as treatment. As a result of the injuries, the plaintiff experienced a temporary incapacity of five days and a permanent one of four percent loss of overall organic capacity.”

Court Ruling:  The defendant is sentenced to pay damages and losses caused to the plaintiff resulting from the injuries suffered as a consequence of her fall on the premises of the defendant, which will be determined in the execution stage of the judgment. As the defendant has been defeated, they are condemned to pay the procedural and personal costs (Article 221 of the Civil Procedural Code).”

Slipping on vomit left on the floor

Court:  SECOND CIVIL COURT EXTRAORDINARY SECTION. Resolution No. 00406 – 2018. Resolution Date: June 22, 2018, at 3:02 p.m. Case File: 14-000267-0180-CI. Type of Matter: Ordinary Civil Process.”

Facts: That on the twenty-eighth of February, two thousand fourteen, around six in the evening, while acting as a user of the commercial services offered by the defendant at its Maxipalí Turrialba location, the plaintiff slipped because there was vomit on the floor without any caution signs, resulting in a fall and a strong impact on her right shoulder.

Court Ruling:  Regarding the records of the insurance company, as indicated, there is no evidence that the plaintiff suffered an accident as described in their lawsuit, and the use of the policy, in no way, allows for the conclusion that the alleged fall occurred due to the poor condition of the floors and can be justified in good faith by the defendant company. The same fate befalls the expert medical report, as the professional certifies the plaintiff’s injuries but cannot establish, as the plaintiff attempts to portray, a causal link between those injuries and what is narrated in the lawsuit, considering that the fall could have been due to the victim’s fault, the actions of a third party, unforeseen circumstances, or force majeure. Based on the above, there is not enough merit to overturn the appealed judgment.

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