What Should You Do and What Should You Avoid If You Have a Potential Premises Liability Case?
Interviewer: What are the steps that someone should take when they get injured? What should they prepare for you when you meet with them?
Retain an Attorney and Do Not Provide a Statement to the Insurance Company
Bill Levinson: It doesn’t matter how you’re injured. If you care about being treated properly you need to get a lawyer, the sooner the better. As far as what they need to prepare, they don’t need to prepare anything. What they need to do is not speak to the insurance company of the premise that hurt them. They need to speak to the lawyer and have him or her speak to the insurance company.
If You Provide the Establishment with a Statement of the Incident, Retain a Copy for Your Records
This is a general warning that I’m surprised that people do it but they almost do it 100% of the time. The store manager will come out and will ask them to write a statement. For whatever reason, people never keep a copy of the statement.
The only way that I’ll ever get a copy of that statement is by filing suit. Hopefully you can avoid that by obtaining meaningful settlement. There may be information in that statement that would: one, be very helpful to you; or two, defeat your case.
I’m astounded that people go through these situations and injuries, fill out a report and don’t ask for a copy. Sometimes they ask and this establishment refuses to give it to them. That ought to be an indication that you need to speak to an attorney the sooner the better.
As a general proposition, whenever you’re hurt, whether you think you have a case or not, if you have the slightest concern, speak to a lawyer. You’ll get an answer.
Most Stores Provide a Prepared Accident Form for the Individual to Fill out
Interviewer: In that situation when they ask you to write a statement out, what are some of the things that they may write on that statement that may hurt their case?
Avoid Providing Overly Detailed Comments on the Forms
Bill Levinson: Most of them are forms and you just fill them in. In an effort to be honest, people might write they saw the warning signs. Not that you’re going to lie when the time comes to describe what happened. If they’re not asked the $64,000 question, you wouldn’t volunteer the information.
It Is Possible That Some Establishments May Withhold Evidence That Supports Your Version of an Accident
There is another thing that is really disturbing and pertains to a couple of cases currently pending. These stores now have video supposedly covering the entire store. I am in the process of suing Safeway because they have video of the entire store except for the isle where my client was injured.
He was injured by a fire extinguisher that fell off the rack. They don’t have a video but the defense says that my client knocked it off. My client swears he didn’t touch it. The video would have resolved it. I’m not going to accuse them of destroying the video but it’s odd that that one isle in the store doesn’t have video.
Establishments Are Not Obligated to Retain an Inordinate Amount of Material to Support a Claim against Them
Interviewer: To get it clear, the establishments are not obligated to make the defendant’s case?
Bill Levinson: They’re not obligated to make the defendants case. That doesn’t mean that I don’t have my client’s statement written questions. I have a case right now in Alaska where my client was a guest at a rustic lodge. They had arrived, they went up to their room and then my client was walking back to his car.
He was walking down these big block stairs and two of them caved in. They were rotted completely through and he fell and injured himself badly, required surgery on his right tendon.
It Is Advisable to Consult with Your Attorney If the Insurance Adjuster Asks You for a Written Statement
In that situation, for whatever reason that the adjuster wanted, I permitted them to send written questions to my client. Normally, I won’t do that because it is essentially giving them two depositions.
The liability was so clear on this that I felt that it would be helpful to our case to answer written questions. The other reason why I will allow it occasionally is because I control the answers. I’m the one that’s sitting there with the client. While we don’t ever misstate the truth but there are ways to phrase it that are more helpful.