Slip and fall cases are one of the hardest kinds of personal injury cases to win. Injured plaintiffs must show not only that the property owner/tenant had a legal duty (responsibility) to prevent their fall, but also that the owner/tenant breached that duty (failed to respond to the circumstances accordingly) and that their injuries were caused by the owner/tenant’s breach (and not by some previously existing medical condition).
However, there are a couple things injured plaintiffs can do from day 1 to increase their chances of recovery. Whether you slip and fall on ice on a sidewalk or a grape in a grocery store, these six simple steps will not only help you feel better physically, but could also be your ticket to legal recovery.
This is one of the most important things a fall victim can do before leaving the scene and sadly is one of the most frequently forgotten. As weather changes occur throughout the day to melt away the ice on which you slipped, and as floor messes get cleaned up within minutes of your fall, it becomes increasingly important to preserve and memorialize the accident site in well-taken photographs. Luckily, this need is more easily accommodated with the increased presence of smart phones in our society. You, or someone you are with, should take photographs of the area in which you fell, hopefully including and showing the thing(s) that you feel caused you to fall (e.g. ice, water, banana peel).
Once you recognize that you are in some sort of pain or discomfort, you should immediately schedule a visit with your doctor. If you do not have a primary care physician, go to a walk-in clinic or a hospital emergency room, if necessary. You should also keep a diary/timeline describing important events (e.g. your injury-causing fall, doctor appointments) and how you feel each day thereafter. This will not only help your doctor in his/her efforts to heal you physically but can also help your attorney better evaluate your legal case early on in the process.
You do not have to commit to hiring an attorney the day of your accident, but you should start to “shop around” within the first week. It is important that you hire a lawyer you trust and are comfortable with early on in the process so that (s)he can guide you through the process and protect your rights and interests. Especially in the beginning, when you first get injured and are dealing with multiple doctor’s visits and possibly having to take time off work, it is important to have legal representation to ensure that your chances of legal recovery are not compromised early on in the process.
The owner of the property on which you fell (and/or their liability insurance representative) will most likely want to hear your side of the story. By this point, hopefully you have already hired an attorney to represent you. If you have, your attorney should do the talking for you. If you have not yet hired an attorney, do not talk with the insurance company or the opposing party until you have hired an attorney. Then, let your attorney handle the communications from thereon out. Rest assured, your attorney will let you know when the appropriate time and manner is for you to communicate directly with the other side to hopefully achieve a favorable resolution of your case.
This becomes increasingly important the more serious your injuries are. Whether your trusted doctor recommends that you take certain medications, attend therapy sessions, prepare for surgery or stay out of work for any period of time, you should listen and follow orders. If you doctor tells you that you should not return to work or that you should return with limited duties, make sure your doctor gives you a written note advising of this. Also, do not avoid medications or treatments just because you think you cannot afford them, and do not go back to work sooner than your doctor recommends just because you think you have to. There are usually things your lawyer can do to postpone payments of medical bill and protect your job security should you feel an issue might arise.
Keep copies of all your medical bills, including receipts for over the counter medicines and medical products that you purchase for treatment of your injuries (e.g. air casts, ace bandages, ice patches). Also, keep track of mileage for your trips back and forth to medical appointments and your lost wages for time missed from work (including any vacation and/or sick time you have to take as result of your injury). If you are married and your spouse has to miss time from work because of your injury, have him/her keep track of their lost wages, too. Also, if you have to hire someone to do chores that you previously did before your accident but cannot do because of your injury, be sure to keep records and/or receipts of the cost of their services rendered. All of these expenses and damages are potentially recoverable through your personal injury case, and the better you document these values now, the easier it will be to achieve legal recovery in the end.
Author: Michael J. Fontaine, Esq.