Frequently Asked Questions About Slip & Fall Cases
I think the first major reason is that some attorneys really don’t know how to investigate them and they don’t know whether or not there’s good liability. Also, I think that they probably believe that the damages are always difficult to prove. This is because in a case like a premises liability or a slip and fall—liability is a very hotly contested issue.
My experience has been that many occur in department stores and big grocery stores. They are likely to occur in an establishment that has a very hard and shiny type of flooring surface.
Under certain conditions, any surface will lend itself to a slip and fall incident. I’ve had cases where troweled sidewalks that looked like they have sufficient edging that no one could slip on them but for reasons such as the slope, for example, of the sidewalk makes a difference. It’s usually a combination of factors.
For example, in the big department stores, although their floors look shiny, they’re prepared in such a way that they’re anti-slip. However, there are circumstances where that does not help the situation. I think as a general statement, I think that if the fall occurs, then the follow-up investigation will determine whether or not there’s the possibility of liability.
I think that there are two common misconceptions. First, many individuals assume that they do not have a case, and second, that if they do believe they have a case, they think that the store or the liable partner or the insurance company is going to treat them properly.
It’s the same in every type of personal injury case, if an injured person deals directly with the insurance carrier. The other actually major issue is that some folks think that if you fall, you automatically have a case. Oftentimes, that’s not the case.
We were talking about lawyers unwilling or reluctant to take these cases. The first mistake that both the lawyer and the client make is that the lawyer assumes that liability is going to be impossible or very hard to prove. That’s not always the case. The second error is the person who falls and believes they have a case every time, no matter how the incident occurred. That’s not accurate.
The slip and fall cases are handled in my office in this manner. When I receive the call, I want to know why the caller believes that they have a claim. Surprisingly, most of the time that conversation will yield information that I believe will, if investigated, result in a reasonable and doable claim based, at least, on the liability portion of it.
The next thing is, and it’s the same with any personal injury case, it depends on the seriousness of the injury. You could have liability and sounds kind of crass to say that, but if the damages are not sufficient, the challenge of liability makes it a case that shouldn’t be taken.
Generally speaking, I have to hear something that leads me to conclude that liability is a good possibility. Then, the better the liability, the less the injury has to be, the less severe.
As far as mistakes go, it’s not so much that it’s a conscious decision or action that’s taken. Generally speaking, it’s inaction. People fall, they’re hurt, they’re embarrassed and they genuinely don’t take note of their surroundings. While the embarrassment is perfectly natural, it can prevent some people from doing some important things after a fall has occurred.
When there were substances present on the floor when the incident took place, it would be very helpful if they would have the presence of mind to take a photograph. If their clothing is covered with a substance, the clothing should be kept.
Another really common thing that happened and it’s not a mistake on the client’s part but they will call the establishment’s manager. They will make a report, either written or oral but fail to ask for a copy. If a case is pursued, generally speaking, those forms disappear. Invariably when we have gotten those forms, we note there are things that the store should have done and didn’t do. The report is oftentimes an initial source of facts that can improve the chances of proving liability.
It’s the same as any other personal injury case in that there are two things you want to know. First is the extent of the injury and whether or not the client heals. A little bit more important in the premises liability case is the issue of liability.
The value of the case liability is based on several factors. We examine the cost of the medical bills. Second, whether or not the client is left with any permanent or prolonged symptoms. We also examine whether the client has lost income from wages or whatever source of income.
Then the most difficult area to calculate, for simplicity sake, we’ll call pain and suffering. It’s a lot more complicated than just that. That number in my experience is related to the first three things.
We don’t discuss value in the beginning because we don’t know if there was time lost, we don’t know a permanency, and we certainly don’t know the cost of the medical bills. We don’t estimate any of these until the client has been released from care. We then are in the position to gather all of the information; wage loss, medical bills, and any other property type damage.
Then we sit down with the client and we discuss generally what value a case like this has been generated by jury verdicts and what my experience has been over the last 40 years as far as amounts of money. Obviously, it’s changed over time. With all cases there’s a relatively a new phenomenon and that is people should be prepared for litigation. This applies whether it’s premises liability or any other case.
This is due to the fact that insurance companies have somehow come up with the notion that by forcing folks into litigation they can save money. Many people are unwilling to litigate but I think that’s something should be considered or they should be prepared for.
Now, the next question is whether the liability is contested. This is a very tough choice for the client. This is because if liability is hotly contested, the risk is increased. The risk of losing completely and also the value of the case are proportionately reduced because of that risk. Sometimes, it’s a very difficult pill to swallow.
In my office, no matter what the case is, I promise my clients that I will get the insurance company’s best offer in writing. Then the discussion and the decision can be made. By the way, we do get the top offer in every case in writing.
In the state of Washington, we have something called the landlord tenant act, which sets out whether your landlord can be held liable as far as premises cases. Now, if it’s an open and visible hazard, the landlord is not liable. If it is a hidden hazard or a derelict in a duty then the landlord is liable.
Here’s an example of a hidden hazard. The tenant is mowing the lawn and in the process, steps off the mower and steps into a hole where there’s a utility. That was not disclosed when the tenant rented the property. You could not see it because of the length of the grass. That landlord is liable.
I have a client that comes out of their apartment. They take one step and they fall and sustain a serious injury. The issue there is if the landlord had a responsibility to maintain the safety and maintain the property. In that situation, the landlord’s duty was to take steps salt or sand to prevent the tenant from slipping. I’ve handled hotel cases where that has also occurred. Generally speaking, the hazard has to be something other than just tripping and falling with no element of not being visible.
It depends on why you fell. If it’s something that the tenant did, you hope that the tenant has insurance, home owner’s insurance. If it’s something that the landlord was at fault, then the landlord is liable.
Absolutely, if there are grounds for it. For example, they have wooden steps going out from their back porch. The steps are fine if it’s raining but if the steps are wet and very slippery and the landlord or the homeowner doesn’t in some fashion protect people using those steps, the homeowner is liable.
Well, there is a foolproof way to find out and that’s to try it. I encourage people who come in here that ask that question to try and deal with the insurance company. Folks like me wouldn’t be in business if the insurance companies didn’t treat the public the way they do.
The first thing that I would hope that they do would be to get as much visual information as possible. This includes photographs and the names of people that witnessed the incident. However, liability and value are very difficult to determine for the layperson. If you believe you should be compensated because of negligence, you should speak with a lawyer and find out.
The right attorney is going to be able to tell you fairly quickly whether or not you have a case that is worth pursuing. The sooner you get to a qualified attorney who has the knowledge and expertise in the area of personal injury, the better off you’re always going to be.