Why You Need an Experienced Personal Injury Attorney to Negotiate Your Slip and Fall Claim
By David Carnes, Staff Writer
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that over a million substantial slip and fall accidents occur in the United States every year. If your slip and fall accident was caused by the misconduct of another party, you have two options – sue or settle with the party that caused the accident. Although most slip and fall accidents are resolved at the bargaining table, it is your ability to win a lawsuit that serves as the backbone of your bargaining leverage.
Slip and Fall Accidents
Most slip and fall cases arise from an accident that occurred in a public place or as an invitee on someone else’s property. Following are examples of some causes of slip and fall accidents:
- A stairway railing collapses
- Shop employees fail to place a warning sign after mopping the restroom
- Inadequate lighting in hallways
- Torn carpeting
- Pavement potholes or obstacles strewn in walkways
A slip and fall claim is usually (but not always) considered a state law personal injury claim based on negligence. Although personal injury law varies from state to state, in every state you will have to prove the following four elements to be entitled to compensation:
- Duty: The defendant owed you a duty of care. If you are shopping in a mall, for example, you are considered an “invitee” and the mall owner and/or the store proprietor is obligated to keep the premises free of unreasonably dangerous conditions that might injure you.
- Breach: You must prove that the defendant breached its duty of care by either acting inappropriately or by failing to act appropriately. An employer can be held liable for the misconduct of its employees even if the employer is not personally at fault.
- Causation: You must prove that the negligence (or in some cases, intentional misconduct) actually caused the accident that injured you.
- Damages: You must prove every dime of the damages you are claiming. Your damages might include items such as medical bills, estimated future medical expenses, lost work time and pain and suffering. Damages for pain and suffering can greatly exceed medical expenses.
Evidence at the Settlement Table
Small claims, especially property damage or minor injury cases, can often be settled with a few phone calls. The larger the potential damages, however, the more resistance you will encounter from the other side. It is likely that the other side will demand that you prove their liability and, perhaps more importantly, the exact amount of damages, with evidence that would be admissible in court, including expert witnesses if necessary. Courts impose strict requirements on the admissibility of evidence.
Any one of dozens of potential defenses might be available in a slip and fall case. Following are some of the most commonly used.
Reasonable Care: The defendant acted with reasonable care despite the existence of a dangerous condition – for example, a slip and fall accident occurred in a convenience store ten seconds after liquid was spilled on the floor by another customer (leaving the employer with little time to clean the floor or post a warning).
Comparative Fault: The accident was partly your fault. In some states, this will reduce your damages in proportion to your degree of fault. In a few states, this may actually preclude you from recovering any damages. This is known as contributory negligence.
Statute of Limitations: States impose a certain deadline – three years after the accident, for example -- beyond which you can no longer file a lawsuit. The inability to file a lawsuit will render settlement negotiations virtually impossible. Each state’s statute of limitations is different. You should consult an experienced slip and fall lawyer in your area to determine the statute of limitations in your state.
Pre-Existing Injury: You were already injured before the accident, and the accident exacerbated your injury. This may reduce the amount of damages. In some cases, this may preclude you from any recovery.
The architecture of a successful slip and fall settlement can be deceptively complex. A simple mistake, such as underestimating future medical expenses, can leave you with a woefully inadequate settlement. Under these circumstances, an experienced slip and fall injury attorney is more than just a luxury – a good attorney can more than pay for his own fees by the amount he increases the value of your settlement.