There are many important parts to a Florida slip and fall injury case. I am referring to cases which are based on negligence. They are the injured person, the dangerous condition, personal injury, causation, notice and duty. This article focuses on the injured person.
1. Injured Victim is Often the Only Witness to the Incident
The injured person must be as prepared as possible when making a slip and fall claim. The injured person may be the only witness to the slip and fall accident. I settled a case for $195,000 where my client slipped and fell on a stairs and was the only witness to the fall. That settlement was before deduction for attorney’s fees and expenses. Most cases result in a lower recovery. It should not be assumed that your case will have as beneficial a result.
However, with modern technology, more and more slip and falls are captured on video. The injured person may be the only person who is able to talk about the condition of the surface upon which he or she was walking and what happened right before the fall.
In the case that I mentioned above which settled for $195,000, my client was the only one who could talk about the conditions of the stairs right before he fell. He claimed that the stairs were slippery before he fell. If he would have testified that the stairs were completely normal, he would not have a case because there would not have been any negligence on the apartment complex owner. The lighting was not an issue.
I settled a case against a hotel where my client slipped and fell while stepping out of the shower. She claimed that water was leaking through a gap between the glass in the shower door that should not have existed. The only witness to the fall was the injured woman.
The injured person may be able to testify about the lighting immediately before the fall. Now, the property owner can still claim that lighting did not cause the fall.
When I am interviewing a prospective client or after they have hired me, I ask them to complete a slip and fall questionnaire where they document the lighting conditions at the time of the fall. It is important to note whether the lighting was natural, artificial (on or off), good, fair, dim or dark.
Lighting can be one of 39 important factors that affect the settlement value of a personal injury case. My questionnaire also asks our clients whether they believe that the amount of light was a cause of the fall. Of course, the property owner may argue that the lighting was good and this did not cause you to fall.
You should do this write down these questions because your memory may fade and you will forget specifics of the accident. Sometimes, you will have your deposition (testimony) taken years after the fall because most slip and fall cases are not ready to settle until your complete your medical treatment.
2. Credibility of Injured Person Is Very Important.
As in any injury case, whether you get money may determine on your believability you are. Liability claims adjusters do not like to give money to people who are not credible. As soon as possible after the slip and fall, you should write down every fact about the slip and fall that you can remember.
One of the questions that will be asked in any slip and fall case is how long you were on the property and what were you doing before the fall. The claims adjuster may ask you this and the defense attorney will ask you this. There are many reasons why you should not speak on the phone with a liability claims adjuster. Under no circumstances should you give a recorded statement.
3. Write down all the details.
As soon as possible after the fall, you should write down the exact time that you arrived to the area where you slipped and fell.
If 911 was called, you can request the 911 audio call and transcript. The call should document the exact time of the fall. If an ambulance or fire rescue was called, you can request those medical records and they will state the time that they were called.
I recently heard of one defense attorney who asked the injured person what TV shows they watched on the night before the incident. He was doing this to see how good the injured person’s memory is of the 12 hours or so before the fall. He wants to make it seem like if the injured person cannot remember what he was watching for TV the night before, then how can he remember all the facts of the slip and fall?
You should write down what you ate for breakfast on the morning of the incident. I ask that question to store managers and employees of defendants in slip and fall cases. In a slip and fall lawsuit against a supermarket, the defense attorney may ask you to describe the items that were in the aisle where you fell. The same can be asked in any slip and fall case. You should make note of this, even if it involves going back to the store where you fell so long as you have a business purpose in being there (e.g. to purchase a product, etc.).
After a fall on someone else’s property, you should write down the exact path that you entered from the moment that you arrived at the property. The odds are that you may forget it by the time it comes to have your deposition taken. While many slip and fall cases may be settled before a lawsuit, do not count on it! I have had slip and fall cases where the store, premises owner or landscaper denied liability so we had no choice but to sue.
I recently had a $300,000 Settlement for a client who had 2 skin grafts to his leg as a result of a slip and fall at a grocery store. Even though the defense attorney sent us a video showing the fall, she asked my client in his deposition to tell her where he walked from the moment that he parked his car in the parking lot until the fall happened.
If you were using a shopping cart, you should make note of how full it was. The store owner may have a video of it and the defense attorney may try to test your memory by showing that you cannot remember how full it was. They want to show that you are not credible so the jury should doubt your version of what caused you to fall and the facts surrounding the fall.
If you slipped and fell in a store or business, you should write down which department you were walking from and which area you were walking to. For example, perhaps you were walking from the deli to the bakery. If you made a turn down a certain aisle, you should write this down as well. Even if you see multiple video cameras in the store, do not assume that the video captured your fall! I have had cases where the store cannot produce video surveillance of the fall.
Before a lawsuit, you may be able to make a public records request to get a floor plan of the store or property where you fell. This request should cost very little and can help refresh your memory as to the path that you took before the fall happened.
If you were pushing a shopping cart, then you should write down whether your foot slipped. If you were unable to hold on to the shopping cart, document this as well.
Some things that you should write down as soon as possible following the accident are:
- The particular body part that you fell on. (E.g. knee, foot, arm, etc.)
- Everything that you saw or felt immediately after your fall, in particular the item that you believe caused you to fall. So if you saw or felt grapes, eggs, a banana, water, grease, oil, etc. after your fall, write this down.
- Describe the item or substance that you saw or felt. Was it dirty, crushed, broken, greasy or did it have tracks or footprints going through it? Had some of it dried? These characteristics may help you prove notice which is necessary in a slip and fall case.
- The body part where you felt the item upon which you slipped and fell. (For example, if you felt eggs, a banana, water, grease, oil or grapes under your knee or foot, write this down.)
Injured people who slip and fall and record the details as soon as possible following the fall have a better chance of settling their case for fair value than those who don’t. One of the general rules of any deposition is not too guess. You do not want to be guessing as to the facts of what happened if your testimony is taken a couple of years after the accident. Especially when you could have been avoided this had you taken some time to write the details about the time leading up to and during the accident.
It is also important to look at the other elements of a slip and fall case: the dangerous condition, the personal injury, legal cause, notice and duty. Get an attorney who understands these concepts. Check out 11 Reasons to hire an accident lawyer if you’re injured.
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