Many individuals mistakenly believe that a “slip and fall” type injury occurs only for high-risk groups, including seniors and individuals with physical mobility impairments. The truth is that every year in the United States, more than eight million hospital emergency room visits emanate from a fall injury, and (while more likely in adults over the age of 75 years) can impact anyone at any time.
Protecting yourself and others from a potentially life-changing fall injury is the first and most important step in reducing loss. Private businesses, employers, and the health education community need to spend more time educating about ways to reduce injury risks. But, in the legal community, it is becoming increasingly important to provide resources before the injury occurs, which will enable victims to take immediate steps to protect their rights.
While laws and limitations vary per state, we share five things a consumer should do after a public slip and fall accident. These suggestions are to ensure that the injury and incident is thoroughly documented for legal proceedings.
1. Personal Injury Check
Is it safe to move? There are several factors including embarrassment, or obstruction of traffic (if you’ve fallen in a crowded area), and other scenarios which may make an injured individual move before they are ready to do so. Do a personal inventory cautiously, look for abrasions and discomfort in joints, wrists, hands, back, and extremities. If you feel it is unsafe for you to stand, ask someone to call emergency medical response, and remain still to avoid exacerbating the injury.
2. Take Names of Witnesses
Whether you have fallen inside a building, outside on a sidewalk, or in a public or private transportation setting, there should be witnesses available. Generally, if the injury is significant, individuals will volunteer by providing their name, email address, and telephone number, should a statement be required. Wherever possible, ask witnesses to remain at the scene until the police have been called to officially report the injury.
A police report is mandatory if you feel a significant injury has occurred and you plan to take legal action due to negligence for slip and fall legal claims. This is one of the biggest omissions that many victims of personal injury make when it comes to gathering evidence for the claim. There may be no third-party witnesses, in which case it is the injured against the employer or business owner. In all cases, law enforcement should be called to deal with the incident and file an official, legal, and unbiased report.
3. Make Notes of the Circumstance
This is one area where personal injury claimants do not always prevail. It is very important, even though you are in pain and discomfort, to observe (or have a family member or friend observe) possible factors that contributed to the accidental injury. Smartphones make it far easier today to capture pictures and video, which are also automatically watermarked with the date and time, making them accurate evidence for a personal injury suit.
When observing conditions that precipitated your personal injury, make sure to note the following details for your case:
- Time of day.
- Employees present (including witnesses to the fall).
- Flooring conditions (wet, dry, uneven, loose flooring, unlevel flooring surface, and other factors).
- Name of non-employed witnesses, including other patrons and guests (and their contact information for investigators).
- Owner of the business and liability insurer (name of company) with the policy number. You can take a picture on your phone.
- Pictures of the fall site and objects in the area where you slipped or fell.
In some cases, personal injury victims have “lost” the data on their phone that was collected at the scene of the accident. It is important to quickly upload them somewhere safe, and the injured can email themselves pictures and notes for safe-keeping. Avoid uploading evidence or pictures to social media, as defamation charges can be laid against victims by businesses, particularly if they are made prior to any law suit. Sharing details of your injury and pictures may negatively impact your personal injury case.
4. Seek Medical Treatment
The next step in thoroughly documenting a personal injury claim is to be evaluated by a medical professional. This does not have to be in a hospital emergency room, although injured individuals who visit a walk-in clinic may be quickly referred to a hospital for x-ray and other diagnostic documentation (for breaks and fractures).
At the hospital, it is important for injured individuals to report that they intend to seek legal action in a personal injury suit. This proclamation will change the way the hospital documents the injuries, and the questions the medical team may ask. Medical staff have a legal obligation to report their observations, as well as clinical information and diagnoses accurately and in an unbiased method that will be admissible as evidence in court.
5. Speak to a Personal Injury Lawyer
Before you make a statement to anyone (other than medical or law enforcement), and before you sign any kind of agreement with an insurer, it is important to talk to a personal injury lawyer. It’s not necessary to be rude or aggressive when refusing to talk about the accident with an insurance claims adjuster – simply state that you are waiting to consult with your lawyer before making any comments.
Remember that incident reports and medical reports are accessible by an insurer responsible for representing the business or organization charged with negligence causing injury. The insurer may pressure you to “speak” and even indicate that your lack of statement may reduce your settlement; this is not true, but demonstrates how important it is to speak to a personal injury lawyer and seek representation, particularly for catastrophic (disability) injury cases.
The public may not realize that many personal injury lawyers do not require an upfront fee, but rather represent their clients and are paid only when a favorable settlement is reached. It is good practice to review billable rates with your attorney so that there are no surprises, but paying up front for legal assistance in a personal injury case is generally not required, and fear of legal costs and affordability should not prevent anyone from filing for compensation and reparation in personal injury and negligence cases.