I receive several calls a week regarding potential "slip and fall cases" that are also known as premises liability cases. What many people don't realize is that simply being injured on another's property is not by itself grounds for a claim or lawsuit. The basis of every slip and fall claim is the allegation of negligence, which means that the injured person must show that their injuries resulted from the property owner's carelessness. My first question to a potential slip and fall client is, "what exactly caused your fall?" I then try to determine if and how the property owner is responsible.
Florida Statute 768.0755 (2010) is the current statute on slip and fall cases. Unfortunately, this statute does more to help the landowner than the victim. The key change that was made is that a victim of a premises liability claim must prove that the landowner had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangerous condition.
Here's a typical slip and fall hypothetical: Imagine you are shopping at a grocery store, and all of sudden, you slip and fall on a puddle of clear liquid and injure your lower back. There are no wet floor signs up and no store employee gave you any kind of verbal warning. Sounds like a pretty good case, right?
Well, it depends. Where did the liquid come from? How long was it on the ground before you slipped and fell on it? How exactly are you going to prove that the store knew about it? Before the 2010 statute, the burden was on the store to prove that they did not know about it, which made pursuing these types of claims a lot easier.
In our hypothetical, if a customer accidently spilled the water on the floor a minute before you walked over it, but did not tell anyone about it and no store employee walked past it, how exactly could the store have prevented your fall? Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help your attorney successfully pursue your case.
- First and foremost, I advise to do your best to fully document the scene.
- Always take pictures of what caused you to fall.
- Always get the names of anyone who may have witnessed your fall.
- Try to find out from a manager or employee where the foreign substance came from. Insist on the creation of an incident report and ask for a copy.
- If you are in immediate pain, don't be shy about asking for medical assistance.
- Do not give any kind of recorded or informal statements to anyone representing the land owner until you have had the opportunity to speak to an experienced personal injury attorney in your area.
An attorney will send a preservation of evidence letter, asking the landowner to preserve the best witness of all: in store surveillance video. An attorney can also send you to receive medical treatment from a licensed professional, even if you are uninsured.
The biggest excuse I hear from my clients as to why they did not properly document the scene of the slip and fall is because they were too embarrassed. Instead of staying put and waiting for help, they try to immediately get up, walk it off, and hope no one notices. Please don't allow embarrassment to ruin a potentially good recovery, and be sure that you follow the steps listed above.