Slip and Falls

slip and fallsSlip, trip, and fall accidents can occur anywhere, but are commonplace in public places, such as supermarkets, department stores, hotels, on sidewalks, parking lots, and stairways. There are many causes of slip and fall accidents including slippery surfaces, ice or snow in parking lots, inadequate lightening, missing handrails, uneven sidewalks, or obstacles on walking surfaces causing an individual to lose their footing.

According to the Center of Disease Prevention (CDC), falls account for over 8 million hospital emergency room visits each year and over 1 million slip and fall ER visits each year. Children under the age of 10 years old account for half of the hospital visits. The CDC estimates that as a result of a slip and fall accidents 20% to 30% of people sustain moderate to severe injuries, such as fractures of the upper and lower extremities, spine and hip fractures, as well as head injuries which hamper mobility and diminish their ability to lead active, independent lives.

Slip, Trip or Fall Accident Statistics

  • Slip, trip and falls are the number one cause of accidents in the home, hotels, restaurants and public buildings; 70% occur on flat and level surfaces, and 16% took place on stairs or escalators.
  • Falls are the leading cause of death in construction. In 2010, there were 264 fall fatalities (255 falls to lower level) out of 774 total fatalities in construction.
  • According to the Consumer Product Commission, floors and flooring materials contribute directly to more than 2 million fall injuries each year.
  • In the U.S. slip, trip, and fall accidents account for over 300,000 disabling injuries and more than 21,000 fatalities per year.
  • Slip, trip, and fall accidents is the second leading cause of accidental death and disability after automobile accidents.
  • More than 42% of all falling deaths result from fall from stair or steps.
  • Pets are responsible for more than 86,000 fall-related injuries each year.
  • Fall fatalities are nearly equally divided between men and women, but more women experience non-fatal injuries.
  • Approximately 9,500 deaths in older Americans are associated with falls each year. The elderly account for 75% of deaths from falls.
  • 45% of general liability claims are related to slip and fall accidents.
  • The total expense resulting from slip-fall injuries alone is estimated at $100 million per day; including working compensation claims of over $1.8 billion per year.

Following a Slip, Trip, or Fall Accident

Anyone who has been injured in a slip, trip, or fall accident should:

  • Obtain prompt medical attention for your injuries – even minor pain. It is common for injuries to soft tissues to develop a day or two after the slip and fall.
  • Never make any statements to the property owner or occupier about your physical condition a after a slip and fall.
  • In a premises liability or slip and fall case you should obtain the name, address, and telephone number of both the owner and the person renting or occupying the premises.
  • Gather the homeowner’s or business liability insurance information from the property owner.
  • Obtain the names, addresses, and telephone numbers of any witnesses.
  • If you are able, use your cell phone camera to take photographs of what defect , object, or spill resulted in your slip and fall as well as the surrounding area.
  • Report the accident to the store, hotel or other facility manger.
  • Do not sign any written statement or agree to give a recorded statement without the presence of your attorney.

Do I Need an Attorney?

If you’ve been a victim of a slip and fall accident, it is in your best interests to consult with an attorney. Often property owners are willing to take responsibility after an accident on their premises. However, property owners are rarely the person you deal with. Typically insurance companies are the primary parties who determine liability and are responsible for compensation for your injuries. Dealing with insurance representatives, adjusters or other insurance professionals may be daunting. All insurance company’s use investigators, adjustors and attorneys.  The goal for this team of professionals is to ensure that the bottom line of the insurance company’s profits are maximized and to limit the amount that they pay to people that are injured and victims of negligent landlords or owners.

Having an experienced slip and fall attorney assisting you through the claim process often means the difference between receiving the compensation you deserve and having your claim rejected or being denied adequate funds that you need to cover medical bills, lost wages, and other expenses. For the above reasons, you should never give a record statement or sign any insurance papers without an attorney present, or at a minimum, without first consulting an attorney.

The Law Office of Mark McClure will answer any questions you may have and relieve you from the burden of having to deal with the consequences of the slip and fall accident alone. A few of the many services we provide you include the following:

  • Conduct all communication with the insurance company representative and too negotiate for a fair settlement of your claim.
  • If necessary, conduct an immediate investigation to locate witnesses and preserve relevant evidence before it is lost or altered.
  • Find all potential sources of recovery to compensate you for your losses (i.e. property owner, manufacturer, or governmental entity).
  • Gather all medical records, wage loss information, and other documentation to support your injury claim.
  • Providing the necessary legal bases for your claim and to skillfully navigate your case through the complexities of the court system.
  • Aggressively protect your interests, and assure all filing deadline dates are met.

Falls Categories/Classification

The CDC and other injury specialist classifies falls into two basic categories: (1) same-level falls and (2) elevated falls. Same-level falls occur more frequently, however, elevated fall cause more severe injuries.

Same-Level Falls

Same-level falls include slip and fall, trip and fall, and step and fall accidents. A slip most often results in the person falling backwards while a trip most often results in a person falling forward, whereas a fall occurs when an individual’s body is too far off balance.

1. Slip and Fall: A slip occurs when there is too little traction or friction between the soles of your shoe and the walking surface. Slips are primarily caused by a slippery surface such as wet, icy, or oily walking surfaces and compounded by choice of footwear. It is known that dry concrete sidewalks have good traction, while icy surfaces or freshly mopped floors have low traction. Furthermore, high-heeled shoes with minimal heel-to-surface contact, and smooth leather soles provide little traction, whereas flat or low-healed footwear with soft rubber soles offers a high degree of slip resistance. However, if the walking surface is very slippery, no footwear will prevent a fall.

2. Trip and Fall: Trips typically occur when the front foot strikes an object and is suddenly stopped causing the upper body to be thrown forward resulting in a fall. Some common causes of trips include a small rise in a walkway, slight difference in the height of steps, a loose area rugs, objects such as electrical cords lying across walking surfaces may all cause a person trip and fall.

2. Step and Fall: Step and falls occur when the front foot lands on a surface lower than expected (misjudging distance), such as stepping down from a step stool or over a curb in the dark, or when a person steps forward or down and the inside or outside of the foot lands on an object such as a small toy or rock causing the ankle to twist.

Elevated Falls

Typically, elevated falls are less frequent, but are more severe than same-level falls. Sixty percent of all elevated falls occur at heights of 10 feet of less. The majority of falls result from loss of balance.

Elevated fall accidents occur on raised surfaces. Falls are the second leading cause of accidental death in the U.S. following automobile accidents and are prevalent in the construction industry. Common causes of injury to adults due to falls from elevated surfaces include stairways, elevators, step stools, ladders, scaffolding and roofs. Leading causes of injury to children result from falls down stairways, playground equipment, furniture, step stools. Although fewer in number, falls occur from balconies and from or out of open windows.

Ways to Prevent Slip, Trip and Fall Accidents

Everyone regardless of age can be at serious risk of injury due to slips, trips, and falls. You may avoid or reduce the risk of being injured in a fall by taking the following fall prevention-measures:

  • Pay careful attention to the condition of the walking surface (wet, icy, waxed, uneven, obstacles in pathway) and use care when walking on surfaces that can make it difficult to maintain your footing.
  • Avoid ascending/descending stairways in stocking feet or with slip-on shoes or slippers having smooth slippery soles.
  • Turn on lighting and always use handrails on steps and stairways.
  • Wear slip-resistant footwear, or walk cautiously when wearing high-heeled shoes or footwear with smooth hard soles.
  • Avoid distractions and remain focused on what you are doing.
  • Never use a “make-shift” ladder, such as a chair, box, or barrel.
  • Pay attention to posted warning or danger signs and avoid the area.

Determining Fault / Liability

Under certain conditions courts can hold owners, those that occupy the property, landlords and management companies, as well as governmental entities responsible for accidents and injuries that happen on property they control or own. This area of law is known as premises liability. Slip and fall accidents are the most common type of premises liability.

The court, in determining liability will focus on the legal status of the injured person as well as the  property’s condition. The court will also focus on the activities and actions of both the visitor and the property owner. The duty of the property owner is different depending on who we are talking about.  People who are lawfully on the property, like an invitee, licensees, and social guests are given greater protection than those who are on the property illegally such as trespassers.

Legal Status of Visitor: Invitee, Licensee, or Trespasser

An invitee is anyone who is invited onto the property of another.  Examples of an invite are store customers, restaurant patrons, a guest to a house party, among others. There is an assumption that the party that controls the property, restaurant, house has been reasonable and have taken action to help ensure that people will be safe while on the property.  That action, however, only needs to be reasonable.

A licensee enters property for his or her own purpose; or, they have entered the property as a social guest. Either way, a licensee is on the property with the consent of the property owner.

A trespasser enters the property without any right to do so and without the owner’s consent.

Property Condition and Types of Activities

Both invitees and licensees are treated the same and there is the same expectation in the law with regard to their safety. The standard care expected requires that the owner or person controlling the property exercise of reasonable care in ensuring the safety of a lawful visitor. To comply with this reasonableness standard the owner has a duty to regularly inspect the property and look for dangerous conditions.  But the inside and the outside of building should be examined for these dangerous conditions and repairs should be made or warnings about the conditions should be posted. If an owner is found to have known about the dangerous condition and he or she had failed to repair the problem or warn visitors of the problem, they can very well be found liable.  The owner found liable for negligence and failure to exercise reasonable care would then be responsible for making the injured party whole financially.

It is common, particularly in public places, for people to drop or spills things, or for rain water to accumulate near outside entrance ways. The law does not require property owners or their employees to immediately correct dangerous conditions; they are allowed reasonable time to discover and repair, or at a minimum, to warn visitors or patrons of the potential hazard.

In determining the owners “reasonableness”, the law considers whether the owner makes regular and thorough efforts to keep the property safe and walking surfaces free of spills, debris, ice and snow by performing regular, daily maintenance inspections, particularly in areas accessible to the public. Owners or their employees who fail to make regular inspections, and are otherwise negligent in the upkeep of the premises are more likely to be held responsible when falls do occur.

Negligence

In order to hold the property owner or a governmental entity such as the city or state liable for your injuries as in almost every personal injury case, their n must be negligence and their negligence was the cause of your accident. In order to be successful, you must prove all four elements of negligence.

Elements of Negligence

Duty of Care. The owner or occupier of the property must have owed you a duty of care. The basic principal underlying the duty of care is that generally people have a duty to act reasonably in order to protect others from harm. A property owner’s duty of care is measured by the relationship he has with the injured person. For instance, a business owner owes a higher duty of care to a customer than to an unexpected trespasser.

Breach of Duty.  In slip and fall negligence cases, a breach of duty occurs when the owner or an employee knew or should have known of the dangerous condition because a reasonable person would have identified the condition as hazardous, and had ample of opportunity to remedy the situation before the accident occurred.

Causation. Being able to prove causation is arguably the most crucial and difficult part of a case. To prove causation, there must be evidence that the property owner is legally responsible for your injuries in order to be held accountable. Without evidence, that your injuries are related to the defendant’s breach of duty, they cannot be held liable in court.

  • But-For-Causation: The owners or its employees conduct must actually have resulted in the injury in order to recover. Cause in fact is established by evidence that shows that a property owner’s action or lack of action was a direct cause of the injury. Simply, whether the injury would have occurred “but for” the negligent conduct. When more than one factor occurs before an injury, we have to demonstrate that the negligent person’s action or inaction is a significant factor involved in the injury.
  • Proximate Cause: The proximate cause concept embraces the idea of foreseeability. If resulting harm should have been foreseen as related to an accident or negligent act, then there is liability for the resulting damages. If the person could not have reasonably see that their action or inaction would cause the harm or hazard, then proximate causation does not exist and therefore liability does not exist.
  • Damages Must Be Causally Related: Just because you were injured or experienced damage, those injuries and damages will not be compensated unless a casual connection is made between the harm and negligent conduct. This may be difficult for those involved in cases where multiple factors exist. Causation may be problematic for those who have a pre-existing condition. You must demonstrate that this accident fired-up or aggravated a pre-existing condition for the defendant to be found legally responsible.

Damages. You must have suffered injury and or other damages. Damages must be a direct result of the breach of defendant’s duty of care. Damages must also be verifiable by providing documentation such as medical bills and wage loss verification from your employer for time missed from work due to your injuries.

Comparative Negligence (Fault)

In almost every slip and fall case, the injured person’s actions are at issue in determining whether the person’s carelessness contributed to the fall. As a result of an individual’s failure to exercise reasonable care or due caution reduces their recovery or may bar recovery completely.

Washington State has a system of comparative negligence, meaning that you will be compensated depending on what your contribution was to the accident. Simply, if you were 20% responsible for a slip and fall accident, the damages awarded to you will be reduced to 20%. For example, if you were awarded damages of $75,000, you would be compensated for 80% of your damages or $60,000.

Some common circumstances when comparative fault may be attributed to you include:

  • Walking too fast, running, jumping, or acting in any way that made you more likely to fall.
  • Distracted and not paying attention to where you were going.
  • Carrying material or heavy objects which obstructed your view.
  • Failure to use handrails on stairways.
  • Under the influence of drugs or alcohol, including prescription medication, as many medications may cause dizziness or drowsiness.
  • Wearing improper footwear.
  • Failure to wear prescription eye-wear or having an out-dated eye prescription.
  • Wearing sunglasses in low light areas.
  • Failure to notice or to ignore visible warning signs that the area may be dangerous.

Damages Awarded in Slip and Fall Cases

Compensatory damages are intended to place the accident victim in a position which that would have been in had the accident never happened or to restore the victim financially, emotionally and physically. Compensatory damages consist of money losses called “special damages” and non-money losses called “general damages.”

Special Damages:

An injured person may recover for medical costs for emergency room care, hospitalization, doctor visits, physical therapy, diagnostic studies and prescription medication expenses. You may also recover expenses associated with future medical care that you may need as well as the expense of a wheelchair, permanent housing in a nursing home, and artificial limbs.

You are also entitled to recover lost wages if you were unable to work because of the injuries caused by the accident. If your injuries are permanent and disabling, you may be unable to return to your particular job or may never be able to work again. If you suffered long-term injuries your ability to earn income may be impacted temporarily or indefinitely.

Your attorney will look for and put together at team of economic experts.  These experts will give their opinion as to how much the anticipated losses are likely to be so that they can be taken into consideration when a claim is made.

An often overlooked source of recovery is for expenses that you paid to a housekeeper, gardener, daycare, or other normal family and household tasks provided that you wouldn’t have had these expenditures if you weren’t injured.

General Damages:

If you were injured in a slip and fall accident you may recover for pain and suffering, mental anguish and emotional distress, loss of enjoyment of life, as well as loss of consortium.

Although pain and suffering is often confused with mental anguish and emotional distress, they are not the same. Pain and suffering involves direct pain or physical injury whereas mental anguish involves emotional injury such as fear, anxiety, shock, grief, mental suffering, that often result from a traumatic accident.

Loss of enjoyment of life refers to the emotional, physical and psychological loss you endure over the long-term as the result of an injury. You can be compensated because you can’t enjoy life the way you once did or can no longer do the things you enjoyed. Loss of consortium is for interference with the martial relationship and encompasses loss of companionship, love and affection, or a change in services performed by a spouse. An action for loss of consortium is brought by the uninjured spouse in conjunction with the injured spouses injury claim.

How Much is Your Claim Worth?

There is no rule of thumb in determining how much your claim is worth. The value of a claim is determined by many factors. While the following factors are not inclusive they are important factors that impact the value of a claim.

1. Type and Severity of Injury.  Simply, the more severe the injury the higher the value. For example, a fractured hip requiring surgery, an extended hospital stay and a lengthy recovery has a much higher “value” than an injury involving an ankle sprain, cuts, lacerations, and bruising. Likewise, multiple injuries are generally worth more than a single injury.

2. Amount of Medical Bill and Out-of-Pocket Expenses. The total amount of your medical expenses is a factor in determining the value of your claim. The higher your treatment costs, the more your case is probably worth. Cases with high diagnostic costs for CT Scans and MRI as opposed to higher treatment costs have less value.

3. Your Comparative Fault. Your percentage of fault in causing the accident is subtracted from the amount of your award, and the value of your claim is diminished. See the discussion above under comparative negligence (fault).

4. Prior Injuries. Prior injuries known as “pre-existing conditions” may be a significant factor in the value of your claim. If a slip and fall accident aggravated or “lit-up” a pre-existing condition, the extent of the property owner’s responsibility is determined by whether the pre-existing condition was symptomatic or asymptomatic. As condition is symptomatic if at the time of the accident, you were currently experiencing pain and treating for the condition. A condition is considered asymptomatic if either a result of an old injury or you have not experienced pain or treated for the condition.

5. Your Age.  Your age may also be a factor in determining how much your claim is worth. Victims consisting of either young children or the elderly may receive a higher settlement because people tend to feel sympathetic towards the those that are young as well as those that are old. In the event you can no longer work due to your injury, the amount of time you are anticipated to live and the work years your would have otherwise had are also factors in determining how much you should be compensated.

6. Effects of the Injury. How the injuries impact your life is also a factor in determining how much your claim is valued. Are everyday activities impacted?  Are you having trouble with walking?  Is your ability to drive a car impaired?  Can you still go shopping without problems?  Are you able to do your normal household chores?  Was surgery involved?  How long did it take you to recover?  The answers to these questions help determine the claims value.

7. Income and Job Status. Your income, how many days you missed from work, whether your injuries require you to change jobs, or whether or not you are able to return to work are significant factors in valuing your case. The more money you made before your injury the greater the calculation for loss of wages.  If you have a lower income job, that calculation will also be lower.  Since history tends to be a good predictor of the future, past income levels are usually used to determine future lost income.  Your pay stubs and tax returns will be needed to establish those claims.

8. Insurance Status. Insurance plays a significant role in your ability to recover damages for your injuries. The amount of the property owner’s liability policy limit is usually the most that you are able to get. In some cases, however, the insurance is either too limited or there is no insurance.  In those cases, you may have to try to collect the damages from the owner or controller of the property.

Sources of Recovery

Home owners, business owners, landlords and property management companies have a responsibility to keep their properties safe for people who visit them, customers, or tenants and may be liable for your injuries if they failed to do so.

Manufacturers are required to make safe products. A faulty or defective elevator or escalator may expose a manufacture to liability for your injuries.

Suppliers and distributors also have a responsibility for keeping products free of damage while in their possession and during delivery. If they fail to do so, they can be held liable for your injuries as well.

Government entities are responsible to keep most public streets and sidewalks in front of government buildings reasonably safe for pedestrians. Failure to take reasonable step to ensure public safety may expose them to liability.

Call Us Today

At the Law Office of Mark McClure, we take the time to listen to you and find out what is going on in your life while treating you with dignity and respect.  In these hard times the last thing you need is to feel judged.  You simply need help. We understand.  Personal Injury / Slip and Fall laws are laws that protect.  They protect your things, your home, your car, and your pay checks by ensuring you are compensated when you are entitled to receive compensation.

Call our office and get some information.  After all, their insurance companies have attorneys; shouldn’t you? 

Call and ask for Mark McClure at 253-631-6484.  We are here and ready to listen and help.

Slip and Falls