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Sometimes, the hardest part of a lawsuit is knowing who’s liable for your injuries.
If you’ve never experienced a slip, trip and fall accident, well you’re one of the lucky ones. Most of us go down in this way at least a few times in our lifetimes. But for many of us, the result is a bruised ego or sprain that heals on its own and requires no treatment. We’ve all seen “funny” videos of people falling in very embarrassing ways, and we’re told that no one was actually injured.
But slip and fall injuries are actually very common and can result in serious and long-lasting medical conditions.
- 1 in 5 falls causes a serious injury like a broken bone or head injury.
- 3 million older adults are treated in an emergency department each year for a fall-related injury.
- More than 800,000 patients each year are treated in a hospital for a fall injury, usually a head injury or hip fracture.
- Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury (TBI).
Causes of slip and fall injuries
Wet and uneven surfaces are the primary cause of slip and fall accidents.
These are among the most common hazards:
- Wetness or moisture
- Loose or broken floorboards or steps
- Worn or torn carpeting
- Loose floor mats
- Waxed or freshly mopped floor surfaces
- Potholes in parking lots
- Weather conditions that cause snow, ice, or rain collection on walking surfaces
- Broken or uneven sidewalks
- Poorly constructed stairs
- Debris or clutter on floors
- Loose cords and electrical wires
- Improperly fitting or slippery footwear
- Lack of handrails
- Poor lighting
Have you ever been in a situation where one of these hazards was present?
Without a doubt. And hopefully, you didn’t fall.
But many of these types of slip and fall accidents are preventable.
If you were injured, it could be as minor as a bruise or sprain, and you might not require medical treatment and it will heal on its own in a few days. But there are instances when a slip and fall results in much more serious injuries.
4 common types of slip and fall injuries
- Spinal cord injuries. This happens if the spinal cord is compressed or severed. It can be a life-threatening injury, and it’s often caused by a slip and fall.
- Broken bones. Most broken bones heal with medical treatment that involves a cast or surgery, but it can still be expensive and limit your ability to work, drive, or participate in your normal daily activities.
- Cuts or lacerations. Sometimes a cut is superficial and requires only a bandage or perhaps some stitches, but in some instances it could be a marker of a deeper injury like a broken bone.
- Head injuries. A head injury can be anything from a minor bruise or mild concussion to a traumatic brain injury or even death.
Recovering damages from a slip and fall injury
The amount of your financial loss is likely directly linked to the severity of your injury and other aspects of your lifestyle, like your job. For example, if you suffer a broken leg and you can’t return to work as a dog walker for 8 weeks, you might lose 8 weeks of income. This is a large financial loss even though the injury isn’t life-threatening or long-lasting.
That’s when you begin to look at your options for how to recover the damages you’re owed — or to reclaim the costs from your injury.
If you have medical insurance that covers your treatment (and if the injury is treated quickly and with little medical intervention, you might only be looking at a few copays), there might not be too much expense.
However, if your injury is severe or long-term, and if it has left you with a disability, time lost from work, or reduces your future earning capacity, you’ll have several other expenses that won’t be covered by insurance.
|Insurance might cover...||Insurance won’t cover...|
|... medical treatment (aside from copays or deductibles).||... lost wages.
... home or vehicle modifications for a disability.
... daily expenses like childcare, house cleaning help, transportation, and other “life costs”.
And, there’s no guarantee for future coverage with insurance. Policies change, laws change, and if you expect long-term medical treatment, you can never be sure that your health insurance will continue to cover your needs.
The only way to have your expenses covered is to file a lawsuit for damages. “Damages” are the costs you can recover from a personal injury lawsuit.
The theory of personal injury law is to make a plaintiff (injured person) whole. In other words, the legal system seeks to restore you to the financial position you’d be in if the accident hadn’t happened.
In a slip and fall — or any personal injury accident — your damages could include costs for:
- Medical treatment, including hospital stays; diagnostic testing like X-rays, MRI, CT scans and others; prescription medication; doctor visits; surgeries, etc.
- Assistive devices that include wheelchairs, hearing aids, prosthetics, and more
- Modifications to your home or vehicle if your disability requires adapted use
- Ongoing physical or occupational therapies
- Emotional distress, including pain and suffering
- Loss of consortium
- Punitive damages, which are sometimes awarded in addition to your other damages in order to punish a defendant for especially egregious or malicious behavior
- Lost wages or future earning capacity if you cannot return to work in the same capacity as you were prior to the accident
- Funeral expenses, if you lost a family member to a slip and fall accident and need to file a wrongful death claim
Who’s liable for your slip and fall accident?
Most slip and fall accidents will fall under the personal injury law category of premises liability.
Premises liability is based on the principle that a property owner is responsible for injuries for any person who is legally permitted to be on the property.
In order for a property owner to be liable, the accident must have been reasonably foreseeable.
What does it mean for an accident to be “foreseeable”?
"Foreseeability" is the standard used to determine whether the average person would've known or anticipated the possibility of that particular accident happening.
If there’s a condition on the property that can’t be maintained safely, the owner has a duty to warn of the condition to protect a visitor from the hazard.
It’s also important to establish your own status on the property. You could be an invitee, licensee, or trespasser. These distinctions can vary under state laws but in general, this is how it works:
- Licensee: Is permitted by the owner to be on the property.
- Invitee: Has a specific, express or implied invitation by the owner to be there for a particular purpose, but is limited in scope. For example, the mail carrier has implied permission to walk up to your front door (or wherever your mail is delivered) to drop off a package. They don’t have permission to wander into your backyard to pet your dog. If they’re injured in the backyard when there was no business purpose for them to be there, they might be considered a trespasser.
- Trespasser: Is present on the property without the landowner’s permission or knowledge. The property owner’s duty is not to keep the land in a reasonable condition for the trespasser, but it is to not cause injury to a trespasser.
What if your slip and fall happens on public property?
There’s a legal difference between a slip and fall on privately owned property (which includes any residence or business) and one that happens on a street or sidewalk. The street or sidewalk is likely maintained by your local municipal government.
Often, the rules for suing a government agency are different because there are different notice requirements, sometimes different time limits, and other restrictions on when and how you can file a lawsuit. If this is the case, you should contact a lawyer who’s familiar with the local laws in the municipality where the accident happened.
Proving liability after a slip and fall accident
If you’re going to be successful in recovering damages in a slip and fall lawsuit, you’ll first need to prove the defendant was liable.
There are 3 ways to determine liability for a slip and fall:
- The owner or an employee of the property caused the condition that led to a fall. (For instance, if you slipped because of a spill, worn or torn carpet, or because of some other item left on the floor or underfoot, the owner might be liable for your injuries.)
- The owner or employee knew the surface was dangerous but did nothing to fix it or notify users in a reasonable and timely manner.
- The owner or an employee should have known the surface was dangerous because a reasonable person would have known about and repaired it.
But there’s a catch.
Each state relies on 1 of 4 comparative or contributory fault standards. Depending on the state where the accident happened, your damages can be reduced based upon the amount for which you contributed to the accident.
In other words, the defendant is going to look for ways to argue that although you might have fallen because of a defective condition, something about your behavior contributed to your injuries.
For example, if you were texting and walking, wearing slippery or inappropriate shoes, running in a place where you should’ve known to walk, or were otherwise distracted, they might say that you were partially responsible.
The chart below outlines how your state considers contributory negligence.
Fault Systems by State
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That’s why it’s so important to preserve evidence after a slip and fall, so that you can not only make the claim that the defendant was liable, but also minimize your own liability.
What to do after a slip and fall accident
- Seek medical treatment. It’s essential to visit a doctor or hospital after an accident, even if you don’t think your injuries are serious. Some injuries, like whiplash or head injuries, might not appear right away. If you wait to seek treatment, it will be more difficult to prove that the injury is related to the accident.
- Take witnesses’ contact information. If anyone was nearby at the time of the accident, get their contact information. You don’t necessarily have to worry about taking a witness statement immediately, but find out how to get in touch with them quickly so your lawyer can interview them while the memory is still fresh in their minds.
- Inquire about surveillance cameras. If your accident was in a store or anywhere that there might be cameras (and they’re pretty prevalent these days), make sure they know that the accident happened and that you’d like for them to preserve any footage from that time. Most surveillance video is routinely deleted and won’t be saved unless there’s a specific reason to do so.
- Take photos that show how the accident happened. You might not be able to recreate the accident (nor do you want to), but you can take photos of the condition that caused your fall such as a broken sidewalk, loose floorboard, cracked pavement, poor lighting, lack of handrails, etc. It’s also important to take photos of your own shoes, pants, or anything else that might be important.
- Call a lawyer. It might feel extreme to call a lawyer because you slipped, but it isn’t. You’re entitled to recover your costs for an accident that wasn’t your fault. It’s only right that the responsible party should compensate you for your expenses. There’s no reason to feel embarrassed or like it’s “too small”... because it could be bigger than you expect.
Why talk to a slip and fall lawyer near you?
Your lawyer will work with the defendant’s insurance company or with their lawyer to reach a settlement that correctly compensates you for your losses. Especially if your injury requires ongoing or future treatment, or if you’re going to lose wages or future earnings, it’s essential to consult with a lawyer who can help you figure out what the costs will be.
Don’t sell yourself short. If you agree to a settlement, you can’t go back and ask for more money if it turns out that you’ll have more expenses than you initially thought. It’s your lawyer’s job to anticipate your costs — present and future — minimize your liability, and get you the highest possible damage amount.
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