Things to Do After a Slip, Trip and Fall Accident
On Memorial Day weekend in May 2020, Cheryl Huesman was shopping at her local store for ice cream. She slipped and fell on a puddle of water near the frozen food displays, breaking her kneecap and sending her into months of surgeries and rehabilitation. During her trial, it came to light that the store had experienced repeated issues with the frozen food display cases leaking water for over a year. Cheryl received one of the largest jury awards in Orange County, Texas for her slip, trip, and fall accident: a whopping $1.325 million.
These kinds of accidents are classified as personal injury claims, specifically, premises liability. They seek to recover compensation when the plaintiff is harmed while present on someone else’s property. Serious injuries can occur from these incidents, including astronomical medical bills and disability. When a property owner fails to maintain a safe environment for customers or guests, they can be held liable for any and all costs associated with the victim’s treatment and recovery.
I Slipped, Fell, and Got Injured – Now What?
Most adults aren’t used to falling down and the suddenness of it, combined with pain from injury, can make a person confused and disoriented. In the rush to get medical assistance, it can be easy to forget to look around or document exactly what caused the accident. But proving that there were unsafe conditions present, and that the property owner should have taken care of them, can be key to establishing the owner’s liability.
A qualified personal injury lawyer assists their client in gathering evidence of the property owner’s culpability and outlines the owner’s legal duty of care to others. When this is established, the plaintiff compiles evidence of the injuries they suffered in the slip, trip, and fall accident. It’s also critical to show that the victim was not already suffering injuries from some other cause. In the case of Cheryl Huesman, she was 70 years old but in good health otherwise.
It’s important to collect as much documentation as possible of a property owner’s cleaning and maintenance records, as well as proof that they taught their employees to fix hazardous conditions quickly. Along with spilled liquids, many other factors can lead to accidents such as worn or frayed carpeting, poor lighting, uneven flooring, or debris left in walkways.
In the case of Hassaine v. Club Demonstration Services, Inc., a customer was shopping at their local Costco Warehouse when she slipped on a dark liquid on the floor. She sued the warehouse and a contracting company for her slip, trip, and fall injuries and was able to obtain video camera footage showing a contractor walking by the same spill twice in the space of 7 minutes. This happened right before the victim slipped and fell, and the contractor did not report the spill to Costco employees for cleanup.
How Can I Prove The Property Owner Is At Fault?
There are lots of sources that plaintiffs can use in court as evidence of a property owner’s culpability. Any record of any detail of the accident can show liability for the fall and all receipts associated with treating injuries can support damage claims. Some common sources include:
- Video footage from security cameras in the property
- Photographs taken of the hazard where it occurred, especially if taken right away
- Accident reports from EMTs or rescue squads
- Statements from witnesses who saw the incident
- Medical and hospital bills
- Patient records of medical treatment
- Receipts for non-medical costs incurred by the victim
Proving the property owner’s negligence will show a jury that the request for compensation is just. Showing the extent of the victim’s injuries can prove that the requested damages are fair. To prove liability, the plaintiff must clearly demonstrate three conditions:
- The owner failed to maintain the property in fair and reasonable condition.
- The owner created or was aware of the hazardous conditions causing the slip, trip, and fall accident.
- The owner was aware of the hazardous conditions but did not inform visitors or renters of the property.
Be aware that some states, such as Nevada, have comparative negligence laws that allow plaintiffs to be found partially at fault for their accident. In the case of Cheryl Huesman versus Brookshire Brothers for her grocery store fall, Cheryl was found 30% liable for her own accident because she was wearing flip-flops in the store.
Another consideration is whether a person had permission to be where they were injured. People can be either a licensee or an invitee on another person’s property. A licensee is someone who is on the premises for a business purpose, like a contractor or customer. This would apply in the Huesman case. An invitee is an invited guest who is on the property for a specific purpose, like a party. If a person does not have permission to be on a property and is trespassing, they have no legal recourse if they have an accident.
What Damages Can Be Awarded in a Slip, Trip, and Fall Accident?
Although most slip, trip, and fall accidents result in only minor injuries that heal quickly, over 800,000 people a year are hospitalized after a fall. Victims can suffer broken bones, internal organ damage, spinal or neck damage, traumatic brain injury, or paralysis. Falls outside a property on pavement can cause serious skin abrasions and lacerations from debris. The bills for recovery can add up quickly, especially if the victim is rendered unable to work.
There are two main types of damages that a plaintiff can pursue, economic and non-economic. Some examples of these include:
- Medical expenses
- Hospital bills
- Physical therapy costs
- Lost income
- Lost earnings potential
- Insurance co-pays/deductibles
- Loss of enjoyment of life
- Mental anguish
- Pain and suffering
Some states will limit the amount of non-economic damages that can be awarded. In addition, comparative negligence laws can affect the amount of total compensation. In most situations, if a plaintiff is found to be more than 50% at fault for the incident, they cannot collect any damages. For any fault below 49%, the damage award will be reduced by that same amount. Check with a personal injury attorney in your state to verify what laws will apply to your slip, trip, and fall accident claim.