How do you prove a slip and fall accident claim? Falls constitute a leading cause of accidental injury in the United States. They’re also often preventable, caused by unreasonably dangerous conditions on the properties where they happen.
Injured fall victims generally have the right to demand compensation from property owners and others responsible for failing to keep them safe from on-premises hazards. But how do victims—or, more precisely, victims’ lawyers—prove those claims? That’s the question we set out to answer today. Reach out to a slip-and-fall lawyer!
Quick Review of Slip and Fall Law
Before getting into the finer points of proving slip and fall accident claims, let’s review some general principles.
Lawyers use the term “slip and fall” to refer to any injury someone suffers in a fall caused by a dangerous condition on someone else’s property. You don’t necessarily have to slip before falling to have a slip-and-fall claim.
Any fall—whether it’s preceded by slipping, tripping, stumbling, or any other mode of losing your footing—can qualify, so long as:
- It’s triggered by an unreasonably dangerous condition that the property’s owner, tenant, or manager should have fixed, kept you away from, or warned you about;
- The property belongs to someone other than you;
- You had a legal right to be on the property when you fell (in most cases); and
- You suffered injuries as a result.
If you fell and got hurt in a situation in which the four criteria above apply, you may have a claim for damages. Talk to an experienced slip-and-fall lawyer today to learn more.
Common Slip and Fall Scenarios
A slip-and-fall accident can happen anywhere and be triggered by any kind of hazard.
Common dangerous conditions that lead to injury-causing falls include:
- Wet, oily, sandy, or slick floors
- Ripped or buckled carpeting
- Uneven or unmarked steps
- Cracked pavement, tiles, or other flooring materials
- Loose, broken, or missing railings
- Open holes
- Debris, cords, or other obstructions
- Dry rot and similar deterioration
- Malfunctioning escalators or escalators
- Insufficient lighting, especially in areas with other fall hazards
This is only a partial list. No matter what kind of property hazard causes a fall, the injured victim may have the right to compensation.
The Duty to Keep You Safe
Property owners, legal occupants, and managers typically have a duty to take reasonable steps to keep you safe when you visit their premises. What’s reasonable for them to do can depend on a wide variety of factors, including the type of property, your purpose for being there, and the nature of the hazard that caused you to fall.
But in general, those steps might include:
- Promptly mopping up spills or sweeping up debris
- Making repairs to known hazards
- Posting warning signs
- Roping off dangerous areas
Again, these are just some examples. The test in every slip and fall scenario is whether someone in charge of the property where you got hurt reasonably should have taken steps to protect you from the hazard that caused your fall.
Your Right to Enter a Property
Your ability to claim compensation for a fall injury may depend on whether you had the legal right to be on the property where you fell and the nature of that right. Visitors to properties open to the public, like stores, restaurants, or office buildings, often enjoy the strongest rights to claim payment for fall-related injuries because they reasonably put their trust in owners to maintain safe premises.
Visitors to residential properties typically have strong protections, too, provided the owner or tenant explicitly or implicitly invited them onto the property. The same goes for visitors to public lands, although those who visit wild areas usually have an obligation to look out for and avoid hazards on their own.
Trespassers only rarely have the right to claim compensation for injuries they suffered in a fall, since they had no right to venture onto the property. That said, some intentional property hazards—a deadfall trap, for example—are so dangerous that even a trespasser might have a right to demand payment from the owner or tenant who created it
Slip and Fall Injuries
A fall can cause a host of injuries and follow-on life difficulties. Fall victims broadly have the right to claim compensation for all of them.
Common but potentially severe injuries from falls include:
- Traumatic brain injuries (TBI)
- Spinal cord injuries (SCI)
- Broken bones, especially broken hips, arms, and wrists
- Back injuries
- Orthopedic trauma (tears and sprains)
- Lacerations and abrasions
- Nerve damage
Never assume that your injury is too minor to justify talking to a slip-and-fall lawyer about your rights to compensation. Even seemingly slight injuries can lead to significant long-term problems and costs.
Factual Investigation of a Slip and Fall Claim
The first step most lawyers need to take in proving a slip and fall claim is to figure out what happened, who is to blame, and how an injury has damaged their client. Lawyers do this by conducting a preliminary factual investigation in which they gather and review whatever evidence they’re able to obtain on their own or from their client.
At this stage, lawyers may:
- Interview their client
- Speak with eyewitnesses
- Examine their client’s medical records
- Read any accident reports, insurance policies, correspondence, and other relevant documents in their client’s possession
- View any relevant photos or video in their client’s possession
- Visit the accident scene, if accessible
The fruits of this investigation give a lawyer the factual basis to determine whether the client has a viable slip and fall claim to make against at least one identifiable at-fault party or insurance provider.
Slip and Fall Claim Analysis
Having obtained basic information about the client’s fall and injury, the lawyer next conducts an analysis of the potential claim.
That analysis applies legal principles to the facts the lawyer knows so far, and seeks to answer three foundational questions:
- Do the facts support a claim for damages against a property owner, tenant, or other liable party?
- Are the client’s damages sufficiently large to justify the time and effort it takes to secure compensation?
- Do the at-fault parties have sufficient financial resources to pay the client’s damages?
If the lawyer can answer yes, or at least a strong probably, to those questions, the claim can typically move forward.
Preparing and Submitting a Slip and Fall Claim
Lawyers next turn to assembling the evidence and legal analysis into a persuasive, written claim for compensation on their client’s behalf. A claim can take various forms, depending on who it’s submitted to.
Common forms of a written claim for compensation include:
- A letter written to an at-fault property owner, or that party’s lawyer, demanding compensation for the slip and fall victim’s injuries;
- An insurance claim submitted to the at-fault party’s insurance company requesting compensation under the terms of a liability insurance policy;
- A summons and complaint filed in court, initiating a lawsuit for damages against the at-fault party or its insurer.
A lawyer, with a client’s permission, may submit a claim in just one of these formats, or could pursue the claim in multiple forms, either sequentially or all at once. The proper course to take can depend on a wide variety of factors, including the relationship between the fall victim and the at-fault property owner or tenant, the amount of information then-available about the at-fault party and its insurance coverage, and the lawyer’s instinct for what actions stand the best chance of achieving an efficient, favorable outcome.
Negotiating and Litigating a Slip and Fall Claim
Once a lawyer has initiated a claim on behalf of a client—no matter what form the claim takes—several events usually happen.
First, the at-fault party or its representatives responds to the claim. The form and timing of the response generally corresponds to how the lawyer submitted the claim. In other words, a claim submitted in a letter prompts a letter in response, an insurance claim prompts an insurance adjuster’s claim decision, and a court complaint prompts a formal answer or other court filing.
An at-fault property owner or tenant can generally give three basic responses. The party can agree with the claim and immediately offer to pay full damages. That’s the ideal outcome but also the least common. The party can reject the claim completely and refuse to pay any damages. That’s an unfortunate direction for the claim to take, but it is more common than a complete agreement and isn’t the end of the road. And finally, the party can neither accept nor reject a claim entirely but instead dispute it in part and offer to discuss it further. This is a common response.
Requesting and Exchanging Information
In most slip-and-fall cases, the response triggers a period in which the parties exchange information about the claim. This can happen informally through a back-and-forth between their lawyers or insurance representatives. Or it can happen formally through the court process known as discovery. In either event, the aim of this information exchange is to allow both parties to learn more details about the claim and any potential defenses to it.
It can include, for example:
- Requests for documentation about the fall, the property condition that caused it, and the victim’s injuries
- Informal interviews or formal, under-oath depositions of the victim, the at-fault party, and other witnesses
- Analyses conducted by medical, forensic, or financial experts
- In-person examinations of the site of the fall accident
With the information they gather during this period, the parties may adjust their positions. The victim’s lawyer may amend the claim, for instance, to request additional damages or to pursue someone else for liability. And the at-fault party or liability insurer may change their views of whether to agree to or fight the claim.
Negotiating a Settlement
Eventually, as the parties clarify their positions, settlement discussions take place between the victim’s lawyer and the at-fault party’s lawyer or insurance representatives. These talks, too, can take various forms. They might happen over the phone, in exchanges of emails or letters, or in person around a conference table.
Sometimes a neutral third party called a mediator facilitates the discussions. The timing of these negotiations varies widely, sometimes occurring immediately after the at-fault party sends a response, sometimes only after the parties have gathered information from each other, and sometimes on the eve of a trial.
Regardless of their timing, however, most slip-and-fall claims—well over 90 percent—eventually achieve a negotiated settlement. A settlement is a binding agreement to resolve a claim. In a slip-and-fall case, a common settlement involves the at-fault party or its insurer paying the victim a sum of money in exchange for the victim releasing them from further liability and (if necessary) terminating any pending lawsuit.
Going to Court
If the parties cannot reach a settlement, then a slip-and-fall claim may go to trial in front of a judge and jury. At trial, the slip and fall victim’s lawyer presents evidence to prove the at-fault party’s liability (fault for not taking reasonable steps to keep the victim safe from a dangerous property condition) and the nature and extent of the victim’s damages (how much the at-fault party or its insurer should pay). The at-fault party’s lawyer also has an opportunity to make a case disputing liability and the victim’s damages.
The trial ends when the parties finish presenting their arguments, and the judge or jury decides who has made the strongest case. If they find for the victim, they award an amount of damages that the at-fault party must pay. If they find for the at-fault party, the victim may receive nothing.
Talk to an Experienced Slip and Fall Lawyer About Your Claim
As the discussion above reflects, proving a slip-and-fall claim takes time, effort, and know-how. It’s a job you should hand only to an experienced personal injury lawyer. To learn more about your rights after getting hurt in a slip and fall accident, contact a skilled slip and fall attorney in your area today.