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Establishing Liability in Slip and Fall Cases: What You Need to Know
A slip-and-fall accident can happen suddenly and when you least expect it. NYC Health has reported that unintentional falls are the leading cause of injury-related hospitalizations in New York City.
Property owners have a certain level of liability and responsibility for the safety of their visitors. A slip-and-fall involving a property hazard can leave you seriously injured. If you can prove the property owner’s negligence caused or contributed to your accident, the property owner could be held liable for the losses related to what happened.
Have you or a loved one been injured in a slip-and-fall accident? If so, Hill & Moin LLP is here to help. Contact us today at (212) 668-6000 to schedule a free initial case consultation.
What You Need to Prove in a Slip and Fall Case
Some people assume that if they fall and are injured on someone else’s property, the landowner will automatically be liable for their medical bills and other losses. However, this does not always turn out to be the case.
If you sustained an injury in a slip-and-fall accident, you will need to establish that the business, home, or landowner failed to take reasonable steps to protect you.
For your slip and fall claim to be successful, you must be able to prove the following.
A person’s status on the property
Property owners have a legal duty of care – an obligation – to keep their premises safe for visitors and guests. However, the duty of care that a property owner owes to an individual depends on the person’s status on the property at the time of the accident.
The three types of visitors to a property are:
- Invitees: An invitee is someone who was invited onto the property – even with an implied invitation. Examples of invitees include hotel guests, patrons of a restaurant, customers in a store, patients at medical facilities, and contractors hired to do work at one’s home.
- Licensees: A licensee is someone who visits the property for his or her own purpose. Examples include a friend or family member stopping by to visit or a door-to-door salesman.
- Trespassers: A trespasser is someone who enters the property without consent. Typically, property owners do not have an obligation to warn trespassers of dangerous property conditions. However, the specific laws regarding this will depend on the state where you reside.
A hazard existed on the property
The first step in establishing liability is proving that a hazardous or dangerous condition existed on the property.
The following are examples of property conditions that contribute to slip-and-fall accidents:
- Ice and snow on parking lots, sidewalks, and stairs
- Torn or ripped carpet
- Poor lighting
- Debris in walkways
- Recently mopped or slick floors
- Broken or missing handrails
The property owner was aware of the hazard
You will also need to prove that the property owner caused the hazardous property condition, knew about it, or reasonably should have known about it. This element of a premises liability case is the breach of duty of care – often the most difficult to prove.
For example, if your fall was caused by a structural defect, such as a broken handrail, you will want to find proof of how long the handrail had been broken. If it had been for some time, the property owner probably should have been aware of the issue.
The property hazard was the cause of the injury
For a slip and fall claim to be valid, you must also prove that your injury was a direct result of the dangerous property condition. The property owner’s negligence in failing to maintain his or her property must be directly related to your injury.
For example, if you claim that you sustained a back injury, you must prove the injury was directly caused by the slip-and-fall rather than some unrelated incident.
The accident victim suffered damages as a result of the slip-and-fall
You will also need to show that you have sustained damages as a direct result of the property owner’s negligence. This is because, if there are no damages to show for it, then there is nothing to be compensated.
Financial losses incurred as a result of a slip-and-fall may include:
- Medical expenses
- Lost earnings
- Pain and suffering
Evidence Used to Establish Liability in Slip and Fall Cases
A slip and fall case is only one type of premises liability claim. As the plaintiff in a premises liability case, the burden of proof lies with you. This means that you must gather evidence showing the property owner’s negligence is related to your injury.
The following are different types of evidence used in slip and fall cases.
If possible, take photos of what caused your accident immediately afterwards. It is important to take photos as soon as possible – otherwise the evidence could be removed.
For example, if your fall was caused by ice or snow, this evidence will be gone as soon as it is cleared or melts. Or if you slip on a liquid spilled in a grocery aisle, the store owner will likely make sure the spill is cleaned up quickly after the incident.
One of the most solid forms of evidence in slip and fall cases is a video recording of the fall taking place.
Most businesses and some residential buildings have CCTV surveillance footage recording the premises. A personal injury lawyer can help you request a copy of the footage from the building owner.
If CCTV footage is not available, it is possible that your fall may have been caught on a security system doorbell camera or by someone recording a video with a smartphone.
Items of clothing
While it may seem odd, the clothing you were wearing at the time of the slip and fall case could be used as evidence. Do not wash or discard the shoes and clothing you were wearing at the time of the accident. Instead, place them in an airtight bag or container and give them to your personal injury lawyer.
If your fall was the result of debris or spilled liquid on the floor, any residue on your clothing could be used to provide evidence of the existence of the hazard.
Additionally, some defendants try to dispute a slip and fall case by claiming the plaintiff was wearing improper footwear. Preservation of the shoes you were wearing at the time of your fall can be used to dispute this defense.
If any people were present at the time of your slip-and-fall, ask them if they are willing to give a statement about what they witnessed. You could use your smartphone to record statements about their version of events.
Be sure to ask eyewitnesses for their contact information. Your personal injury attorney may need to contact them later on and request that they testify in court. Juries will often give a lot of weight to the testimony of neutral third-party witnesses.
It is vital to seek medical treatment immediately following your fall even if you initially feel fine. Adrenaline and the stress of the moment can mask symptoms that become apparent in the hours and days following your fall.
Furthermore, failure to seek medical help right after the incident could lead to the defendant claiming that your injuries were pre-existing rather than directly caused by the slip-and-fall accident. Medical records provide a paper trail connecting your injuries to the slip-and-fall.
An incident report should be completed if your slip-and-fall took place on commercial property. Obtaining a copy of an incident report form from the supervisor on site and filling it out can prove useful to your case.
The incident report could give you a preview of the property owner’s potential defenses. For example, if the business owner puts in the report that you were to blame for the accident, you can expect that will be his or her defense if the case goes to trial.
Additionally, eyewitnesses to your fall that you were unaware of could be listed in the report. These witnesses could provide testimony beneficial to your claim.
A Personal Injury Lawyer Can Help You Gather Evidence for Your Slip-and-Fall Accident
After sustaining a slip and fall injury, you may be debating whether to gather evidence and file a claim on your own or seek the help of an attorney.
Some people hesitate to hire a slip and fall lawyer because they are concerned about the costs. However, most personal injury lawyers work on contingency. This means you will not pay any upfront costs to retain their legal services.
One of the many benefits of having a lawyer on your side is that he or she can help you obtain proof of your slip-and-fall and maximize your settlement in the following ways:
- Conduct an investigation: To acquire evidence, one of the first actions your slip and fall attorney will take is to launch a full investigation into your accident. This may involve viewing security footage, speaking with witnesses, reviewing incident reports, visiting the accident scene, and more.
- Subpoenaed evidence: A slip-and-fall accident lawyer can subpoena evidence that can be used to demonstrate liability. This could include video footage from surveillance cameras, maintenance logs, and repair records.
- Consult experts: Lawyers sometimes collaborate with accident reconstructionists and engineers to get a clearer understanding of how an accident occurred. They may also consult vocational experts and medical professionals to thoroughly understand how your injuries affect your future.
- Record testimony from friends and family: The damages you recover often depend on how your slip and fall injuries have affected your life. Your lawyer may ask your loved ones to testify how your injury has impacted your ability to join in family activities, take care of yourself, or engage in hobbies.
- Protect your rights: The property owner, along with his or her representatives, may try to place full or partial blame on you for the slip-and-fall. They could claim that the hazard and danger were foreseeable or that you were exaggerating your injuries. Your lawyer will work to shift the blame from you and defend your rights.
- Negotiate with insurance companies: Your personal injury attorney can handle all negotiations with the insurance company on your behalf. Your attorney will be familiar with the tactics insurers use to devalue a claim and know how to combat these in order to get you a fair settlement that fully compensates you for your losses.
Let Us Help You Establish Liability After a Slip-and-Fall Accident
At Hill & Moin LLP, we understand the serious consequences of a property owner acting negligently. A slip-and-fall accident lawyer can help you:
- Identify all parties responsible for your injuries
- Establish liability
- Provide insight into what evidence might be available to strengthen your case
Our law firm serves multiple areas in and the vicinity of New York City, including Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, and Nassau County. We offer all potential clients a free case consultation. We take all personal injury cases on contingency. This means we only get paid if we recover compensation for you, so you don’t pay us out of pocket.
Our experienced legal team truly cares about our clients. With Hill & Moin on your side, it is “like having a lawyer in the family,” as our clients have told us. Contact us today at (212) 668-6000 to learn about your Personal Injury Recovery SolutionsⓇ.
Don’t wonder about your rights!