One of the things we frequently spend time counseling potential clients about are so-called slip and fall cases. I have spoken with people about fall injuries incurred at every big name retailer you can think of– Walmart, Albertsons, Shopko, Costco, Fred Meyer, etc- -as well as numerous small businesses and other locations Slip and fall is used by many as a sort of generic shorthand for any type of fall– including, trips, stumbles and step and falls (where there is an unprotected hole in the ground). Particularly as people age, falls can cause devastating, life-changing, injuries up to and including brain injuries. Certainly we get at least one call on fall injuries each week and often three, four or more.
Though we have successfully helped a number of people recover in appropriate cases, big and small, we analyze such cases closely before we agree to accept the representation and continue to do so as we proceed through with the case. These types of these claims can be particularly difficult to pursue and win so we spend a lot of time looking at the case facts and helping people understand the complexity of their particular situation.
The initial question I always ask the injured person is “what did the store do wrong?” The injured person is often surprised by that question. We’ve come to realize that is because the lies of the liability insurance industry has created a false set of perceptions about injury claims. The mere fact you have been hurt does not mean that you have a claim. Instead, you must show that property owner was negligent in some manner. That means that the property owner must have taken some action tor failed to take an action that caused the fall. It is always important that the owner knew or should have known of the hazard that caused the fall. And when falls happen in the winter on ice or snow, there is always a question of how much clearing of a parking lot or walkway is reasonable and required. All a property owner has to do is act reasonably to be found not negligent.
A related issue comes up when we ask the injured person, “how did you fall?” or “what caused you to fall?”. Frequently, they don’t know. This is understandable because of the the trauma of the fall but, the law requires the injured person to prove the cause of the injury. It is the injured person’s responsibility to prove the negligence of the property owner. Thus, an incomplete or faulty memory can create a huge barrier to recovery of the losses imposed on you. A person who took notice of conditions surrounding the fall as soon as possible after it occurs and who obtained the names of any witnesses who saw the fall has a better chance of showing the negligence of the property owner. This is not always easy, as the slip and fall often results in embarrassment and injury and your first thought may be to leave as soon as possible for home or to seek medical care. It is also important to report your injury to the property owner as soon as possible after your fall and to take photographs of the area where you fell, in order to preserve important evidence which will often disappear in a very short time. Even though most big stores have surveillance cameras, there are numerous instance where such crucial evidence as the tapes from those cameras “goes missing.”
Another thing that makes these claims uniquely difficult is that the property owner will claim that the injured person should have seen the hazardous condition that caused the slip and fall. This is the whole issue of comparative responsibility. This is again particularly significant in weather related falls like in icy parking lots. The argument is essentially that “its your own damn fault” you were injured because you weren’t paying enough attention. This claim sometimes is strong, such as immediately after a big ice storm, but often is relatively weak because retailers consciously distract customers from watching their steps. They use eye-catching advertising and packaging to encourage customers to focus on the products they want to sell rather than on watching your step.
A key thing in any fall case is to contact a lawyer sooner rather than later to have them help evaluate your circumstances. People often delay contacting us until after they have talked to the store, a regional manager and an insurance claims person. The claims people are invariably nice until you get the letter denying any responsibility. By then, often, substantial time has passed and proving the claim has become that much more difficult. If you have been injured in a fall, call us and we will help you understand your situation and whether you have a claim for the harms and losses you have incurred. We are happy to help people all over Southern Idaho. An initial consultation is always free.