If you have been injured in a slip-and-fall-type injury, there are some things that you need to know in order to be compensated for the damages you have suffered. Personal injury and tort law are complicated subjects with a simple goal, make those who were negligent pay for the harm they caused an unsuspecting other.
As you read about slip-and-fall-type claims, you may be confused by the similar-sounding terms or all the legal speak that is necessary, but still difficult to understand. This article will clarify what a slip-and-fall is, the various types, what you should do if you are injured, and how to proceed with collecting damages so you are not stuck with a debt you do not owe.
COMMON CAUSES FOR A SLIP- OR TRIP-AND-FALL
- Debris on floors
- Exposed electrical wiring
- Uneven stairs
- Inadequate lighting
- Cracked pavement
- Uneven flooring
- Wet flooring
- Lack of handrails
- Holes in flooring
- Poorly placed fixtures
- Inadequate warning signage
- Worn carpet
- Spilled food or drink
- Broken floor tiles
COMMON INJURIES THAT RESULT FROM A SLIP OR TRIP AND FALL
According to the National Safety Council, accidents in which a person either slips or trips while walking result in almost 9 million hospital emergency room visits per year. Most people would assume that these accidents only result in minor injuries like a little bruising or scraping. However, serious injuries can occur due to the way the human body falls and the unexpected and surprising nature of the accident. Often, it is the suddenness of the incident that allows so much room for injury, since the body has little time to prepare itself.
Common injuries from slip- or trip-and-falls include:
Bruises, Cuts, and Scrapes. As mentioned earlier, slip and falls are not always serious or life-threatening events. Often, the most common injuries from the resulting fall are bruising, scrapes, and/or cuts that can range from mild to major, but they almost always are completely recoverable. This doesn’t mean they aren’t painful; they just won’t cause lasting trauma or disability.
Sprains and Fractures. The second most common injury from falling is an injury to the muscles, ligaments, and bones. In many cases, these parts of the body absorb most of the impact and take most of the falling pressure. For example, slipping or tripping can cause a person to twist their ankle, spraining the connective ligaments. Some sprains and twists are caused by the body’s natural reaction to trying to catch itself, but other injuries are caused by the impact itself. For example, the impact of landing on the ground can fracture or break bones. The most common fractures resulting from falls are to the hand, forearm, upper arm, spine, hip, pelvis, leg, and ankle; whichever is the first point of contact.
Shoulder Dislocation. As a person slips and falls, it is not uncommon for them to land on their shoulder directly, or for it to take a brunt of the impact through the hand and arm. These injuries could be minor, like sprains or bruising, or more serious like the dislocation of the shoulder—known as a brachial plexus injury. The brachial plexus is a network of nerves connecting the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm, and hand. The injuries tend to be common in slip and falls and are extremely painful. They are, however, considered highly treatable.
Head and Brain Injuries. Falls are the most common cause of traumatic brain injury—also known as a TBI. As mentioned above, slip and fall type injuries often cause a person’s head to go speeding towards the ground, with little or no warning. These injuries are called ‘traumatic’ because any damage that occurs to the brain—the body’s most important organ—is considered serious. However, TBIs run the gamut on a scale of severity. Some people may suffer a minor concussion that heals relatively quickly, while others may receive a TBI that causes severe swelling of the brain, accompanied by seizures, mood changes, cognitive impairment, and other life-long debilitations. Slip- and trip-and-falls cause 40% of all TBIs in the US that require emergency treatment.
Back and Spine Injuries. Next to the brain, which is required to breathe, the spine is almost equally important in maintaining life. The spine and the spinal cord are responsible for almost every movement in the human body. When a person slips and falls, they often injure their back in some way. It may be from the twisting motion, from the sudden impact of falling on their head or buttocks, or from contact with a foreign object like the corner of a step. This impact can strain the spinal muscles and ligaments, fractured vertebrae, cause spinal discs to bulge or herniate, or damage the spinal cord itself. Because of the 100 billion+ nerves the spine is connected to, these types of injuries are almost guaranteed to be painful. An injury to the spinal cord can lead to temporary or permanent paralysis, varying disabilities, a lifetime of pain and suffering, or any other number of neurologic and sensory impairments.
Neck Injuries. When someone injures their neck, they’re actually injuring the upper, cervical portion of their spine. For this reason, most neck injuries are similar to back injuries in that damage can occur to the vertebra bone, the spinal cord, the spinal disc, or any of the nerves, muscles, and ligaments around it. What makes a neck injury so serious is its relation to the rest of the spine and body. Since damage to the neck occurs at the upper portion of the spine, it increases the chances of temporary or permanent disability or paralysis to more part of the body. Basically, everything from the neck down is at risk. Neck injuries from slip and falls can be caused by the whiplash motion of the sudden fall, or from a person actually landing on their head or neck.
WHO IS LIABLE?
The most common person liable for slip and fall injuries is the property owner where the fall occurred. However, other, third-parties may be responsible as well.
What is a slip-and-fall?
Slip-and-fall is a term used in personal injury law that refers to a person slipping or tripping, and as a result, falling and injuring themselves. In order for a slip-and-fall to be categorized as such, it must occur on someone else’s property. These types of cases usually fall under the broader category of personal injury law known as premises liability. This is because these accidents usually occur on a premises (property) that is owned or maintained by someone else. Since the property owner has an obligation to keep their space safe, they may be held legally responsible.
There are also varying types of slip-and-fall injuries that are often spoken of under the one umbrella term. Differentiating between the terms is important because all personal injury cases are fact sensitive. Meaning, it best to speak about things in the most precise way possible so that what happened is clear. The types are:
- Slip-and-fall– These accidents occur when a slippery liquid, wetness, or object causes the fall. For example, slipping on a puddle of soda not cleaned up in a convenience store; a walkway that hasn’t been de-iced; or beads left on the floor in a craft store.
- Trip-and-fall– Like the name implies, these accidents occur when a person trips over an object in their path or over an uneven surface. This usually occurs when something is left in the pathway, like a case of orange juice in a grocery store. Also, uneven surfaces like a raised crack in a sidewalk or an abnormally high doorjamb may cause the fall.
- Step-and-fall– This is the most rarely used term in fall injury, but it is different from the others. This accident occurs when the fall is caused by a hole or a low spot in the path. Also, a missing step on a staircase may be the culprit. For example, someone fails to fill in a pothole on the walkway in front of their business or the bottom step of a staircase is missing in an apartment building.
These different types even cause different injuries, though any injury can be caused by any fall under the right circumstances. Because of the nature of slipping, often someone’s feet with go out from under them, causing their body to go backwards. Slipping victims may land on their back, head, or hip. Because of this, injuries to the spine are common in slip-and-falls. Trip and step-and-falls often cause a person’s momentum to push them forward. This usually results in a different range of injuries. As people fall forward, they often put out their arms to stop themselves. This can cause severe breaking of the hand, wrist, arm, or shoulder. The forward momentum may also result in a head injury, face injury, or damage to the knees, elbows, or pelvis.
By their very nature, accidents like slip-and-falls are unexpected events. And although you cannot plan for such an occurrence ahead of time, there are some things you can do after the fact to ensure that you are in the best possible position for compensation. Even if you don’t feel injured or do not notice any major complications right away, it is often the case that days or, even weeks, later people begin to have problems that arise slowly. In order to protect yourself, document the accident.
- Take Pictures– If possible after the fall, take pictures to document the circumstances. Most people have a smartphone these days (or at least a phone with a camera built-in), so taking pictures of the conditions is easier than ever. Be sure to document the surrounding area where the fall took place; as well as, any spills, objects, or items that might have contributed to the fall. If you are too injured and not immediately able, have someone you know take them as soon as possible.
- Gather Witness Information– If anyone saw your fall, make sure you get their name and contact information in case you need to them recount what they saw later. Having eye witness testimony can be pivotal to your claim by corroborating your story.
- Get a Copy– At most large stores and business an accident report is often required as part of the their accident policy. If one is filled out, make sure you obtain a copy of it. It is your right to gain the information they have gathered about your incident. You are not required to sign anything or go through a lengthy account of the events. In fact, you should not do so. Answer basic questions about the event and move on with getting help and collecting evidence.
- Seek Medical Attention– After being injured, it is important that you visit a hospital or doctor as soon as possible. The more time that passes between the incident and examination by a medical professional, the more difficult it will be to prove that any injuries occurred as a direct result of the fall. If possible, make note of what symptoms you are aware of and any complaints of injuries you may have. Do not wait to see if injuries will heal by themselves. Some injuries take time to show up, but being examined right away can help discover unseen problems, as well as, prevent worsening or unforeseen complications.
- Contact an Attorney– Personal injury cases can be complicated and tricky. Insurance companies are for-profit business who want to spend less and make more. Hiring a competent personal injury attorney is empirical to making sure you get the compensation you deserve. Once hired, an experienced attorney will help gather evidence through investigators, begin compiling your case, and evaluating all the components. Be sure to give them all the information you have so diligently gathered, like photos, witnesses’ information, statements, notes, and medical bills.
In a Florida slip-and-fall case, the injured party and their attorney need to prove three things to the court:
- Duty of care. The property owner or business owed a duty of care (see this article for a list of common terms and definitions) to the injured person. For example, when a store is open for business, they are inviting you to come in and shop. They are the inviter and you are the invitee. When a business invites someone onto their property, they have an obligation to make sure the property is safe.
- Reasonable care. You must prove that the store, business, or property owner failed to implement reasonable care in maintaining or operating the property. The court decides what is reasonable in each case based on the evidence. For example, is it reasonable to think that a store should clean up a spill in the main walkway within 3 hours?
- Prove cause. The third component is proving that the business or property owner caused the injury because they didn’t use reasonable care to maintain their property.
All states have what is called a statute of limitations (a law limiting the amount time someone has to make a claim or file a criminal charge). For slip-and-fall cases, the statute of limitations is four years from the date of the injury. After that time, the injured party cannot start a suit against an at fault party. For more information on Florida statute of limitations, visit this site.
Comparative negligence is a legal term that is used when deciding if a person who was injured in a slip-and-fall-type accident was completely, or partially, at fault for the injuries they obtained. Different states follow different rules when the claimant is deemed partially at fault for the accident. In Florida, the injured person’s compensation is reduced by a percentage equal to the percentage that the accident was their fault. This percentage is decided by a jury, based on a predetermined formula.
Depending on where the accident occurred, there are differences in the way the case will proceed. Commercial properties, residential properties, and government properties are the three most common.
- Commercial Property– To be legally responsible for the injuries someone suffered as a result of a slip/trip-and-fall-type incident, the owner of a store, restaurant, or other business:
- Must have caused the hazard to occur or appear.
- Must have known about the hazard, and did nothing to fix it.
- Or, should have known of the hazard because a “reasonable” person in charge of the property would have discovered it, cleaned it or repaired it.
Most cases involve the third situation, because owners or managers of a property cannot know about all hazards as soon as they occur. However, it is still their responsibility to know about any hazards on the property, which is partly why they hire cleaning crews, employees, and safety personnel. Liability in these cases is decided by common sense. The law determines whether the owner/manager of the property was careful, by deciding if they took reasonable measures to keep the property clean and safe.
- Residential Property– As is the case with a store who invites people in because they are open for business, a person who invites you into their home or property has an obligation keep it clear of hazards. It is possible to seek damages when injured as a result of a slip-and-fall at cookout, for example, but the most common type is when a landlord fails to keep their property safe. In this case, landlords may be held liable to tenants—or a third party like a guest of the tenant—for slip and fall injuries that occur on a rental property. Like with commercial properties, to hold a landlord responsible for an injury a tenant must show that:
- The landlord had control over the hazard that caused the accident.
- Repairing the condition would not have been unreasonably difficult.
- A serious injury was the foreseeable consequence of not fixing the condition.
- The landlord’s failure to take reasonable steps to avoid an accident caused the tenant’s slip and fall injury.
- Government Property– When a slip and fall injury occurs on property owned by a local, state, or federal government entity, special rules apply. Specifically, there are very stringent notice requirements and broad immunity provisions that sometimes shield government entities from liability for injuries that occur on their property. This website can provide you with more information in the event of a slip-and-fall on government property.
In the event that you are injured, someone is going to pay for the losses incurred. That person should be the party who was responsible for the accident. Some damages that can be experienced and compensated for are:
- Medical bills and costs
- Lost wages for time off work during the incident and in the future
- Permanent disability, injury, or limitations
- Emotional distress from the trauma or injury, including PTSD
- Other costs directly related to your injury, like no longer being able to participate in a hobby or do a shared activity with loved ones
Hiring a Qualified Attorney
At the Dolman Law Group in Clearwater, Florida, our team of highly skilled slip-and-fall accident attorneys can review your case and obtain the compensation you are entitled to. We will do everything possible to make sure you receive reimbursement for your injuries, as well as lost wages and other damages. Our experienced slip-and-fall accident attorneys have helped thousands of victims in the Tampa area obtain the recovery they deserve for their injuries and related losses. Please call our office at 727-451-6900 today.