Ritholz: 5 Reasons You Need a Lawyer if You Slip and Fall
A slip and fall accident claim is one of the more difficult personal injury matters for an attorney to handle, which is why many practitioners are reluctant to accept representation unless favorable circumstances are present. Many of these cases require notice of the alleged hazardous condition that led to the injury – as well as refutations that the hazard was obvious, known to you, and that you were not comparatively at fault.
A slip and fall is part of premises liability law where an individual who suffers an injury on someone else’s property may sue the landowner if certain conditions exist that renders the owner liable. The status of the property owner and of the victim in some cases determines the degree of care required of the owner towards the injured party.
Having a slip and fall attorney represent you if you are injured on someone else’s property is essential if you want to be compensated for your injuries and damages in an amount that is reasonable and commensurate with the nature and extent of your injuries. Your attorney will also understand the anger and frustration felt in these types of cases, and is the voice of reason that can eventually get you the satisfaction you want and deserve.
Why You Need a Lawyer For a Slip and Fall Injury.
1. It may be difficult to prove the property owner was liable.
If the owner is a businessperson, you are considered a business invitee on the property since you are encouraged to patronize the store for whatever service or products that are sold there. A business owner has a high degree of care to you to regularly inspect the property for hazardous conditions, and to promptly remedy the condition or adequately warn you of its danger and presence. However, the owner either needs to have had notice of the condition for a period long enough before liability attaches, or to have been directly advised of its existence. Your attorney can request certain documents to see if the owner was regularly inspecting the property or even had a policy of inspection.
If you fell in a home or residence, then the owner or renter is liable if the condition was known or should have been known to exist and it constituted an unreasonable hazard. The burden of proof is on you to show that the condition was known or had existed for a time and that it was unreasonably dangerous, which your attorney can handle for you.
A complicating factor is if the owner is a state or municipal entity. You must give notice to the entity pursuant to California’s State Tort Claims Act within a certain time or you could lose your right to compensation. There are limits to how much you can collect from the governmental entity as well. Most of these claims are summarily denied, forcing you to litigate. Having an attorney handle the process for you can ensure you meet the requirements of the Tort Claim Act.
2. You have to disprove your own comparative fault if alleged.
California is a pure comparative negligence state, meaning that you can still collect compensation from another party, even if you were partially at fault. Your damages are reduced by your own percentage of fault so that if your damages are $100,000 but you were 60% at fault, you would collect $40,000.
In many slip and fall cases, the owner or insurer will allege you were at least comparatively at fault. A common argument being that the hazard was open and obvious or that you neglected to look out for your own safety. For example, if it has been raining and you slip, the insurer would assert that you did not take proper precautions to wear the right shoes or take reasonable precautions when walking on the parking lot surface to the store or restaurant.
Your slip and fall attorney can show that your actions were that of a reasonable person and/or that the hazard was either not so open or obvious or that warnings, if any, were insufficient. For instance, your attorney will question your actions from minute to minute during your day to the time of the accident. What did you drink or eat that day, what shoes were you wearing, was there a handrail, where were you looking, was your cell phone on, did you slip on a stair or object, etc. The mechanics and physics of the fall are just as important to your case. The lack of a handrail or a defect in a step or walkway may be all it takes to get you a reasonable settlement and negate any allegation of comparative fault.
3. You Could Give a Statement that Jeopardizes the Claim.
Following a slip and fall, an investigator or adjuster from the owner’s liability carrier will want to get a recorded or written statement from you as soon as possible and before you get legal representation. Plaintiffs are often unaware of the issues in a slip and fall case and will inadvertently state something that an adjuster will seize upon to show that the claimant was not aware of the alleged hazard, acted unreasonably or irresponsibly and was either not injured or suffered minor injuries.
Consulting with an attorney before an adjuster contacts you is crucial. Injured parties are either too angry over the incident and may exaggerate certain facts, speculate or be reluctant to say how injured they are. or may admit to certain facts or circumstances of which they have little or no knowledge. By having your attorney review the facts carefully and in detail and then assessing your injury, you can be sure that all issues have been covered. Also, a statement from you is not mandatory and if done, your attorney can brief you on what to expect. With legal representation, your attorney can present your claim to the defendant’s insurer with a clear explanation of what occurred and why the defendant is liable along with proof of your damages.
4. You Must Prove Your Damages.
Before you can collect any compensation, you need to prove you were injured as well as the extent of your injury and the losses you sustained. Documentation is necessary before any insurer will pay you more than a token amount. It can be surprisingly difficult to obtain all your medical records and bills but your attorney and the law office staff are accustomed to this and will take the necessary steps to get them. If you miss time from work, your employment records are needed as is a statement from a health care provider that you were unable to perform the functions of your job.
A physician also has to state how extensive your injury is, what care is necessary, how long you will be out of work and what physical or mental restrictions you may have. If you suffered emotional trauma, a psychologist can relate the symptoms you are experiencing that are consistent with post-traumatic stress disorder, for example. Finally, your lawyer can obtain a well-drafted report from your doctors expressing a medical opinion about your injury, its care and expenses and that they are related to the accident.
5. Cost of Representation
A slip and fall attorney will take your case on a contingency basis. This means that you pay no out-of-pocket costs or fees and your attorney recovers his/her fee and costs out of any settlement or judgment. If you recover nothing for your case, then you owe nothing. Most legal practitioners take a fee of one-third, plus costs, from your settlement and increase the percentage to 40% if the matter is filed in court and litigated.
Some slip and fall cases can cost thousands of dollars in costs for experts, investigators, court fees and deposition costs. They can also take years to settle or come to trial. The value of your case depends on the liability of the property owner, if you were comparatively at fault and the nature and extent of your injuries. The experience and reputation of your attorney also is considered by the defense in whether to settle and how much to offer.
Also, studies have consistently shown that claimants with legal counsel in persona injury matters recover substantially more in compensation than those who handle their own cases, even accounting for the legal fees taken from a settlement or judgment.
The Value of Slip and Fall Cases
Slip and fall cases can result in very large damage awards. In one recent case, a Virginia jury awarded over $12 million to a woman who sustained traumatic brain injuries after slipping on water from a retail store’s leaky awning. In another, a medical student received $18 million when he fell down a manhole, receiving spinal injuries that ended his medical career. In Mississippi, a jury awarded a woman over $5 million for slipping on a greasy floor in a MacDonald’s restaurant.
Andrew Ritholz is a slip and fall attorney in Pasadena with over 25 years of experience negotiating and litigating the most complex premises liability matters. He has obtained millions of dollars in compensation for his injured clients in all kinds of slip and fall cases against a variety of property owners. Contact him today for a free evaluation of your claim.