The overwhelming majority of civil lawsuits filed in the United States settle without ever going to trial, since trials are often unpredictable and can be a risky method of resolving a dispute. Slip and fall claims are no different. A large percentage of them settle. Of course, the actual amount of the settlement will depend on a variety of factors, but there are steps you can take to strengthen your case and improve your position in negotiations. Following the suggestions below should help you work toward that end.
Proving the "Causal Link"
Proving you were injured is usually not terribly difficult. Your medical records will show whether the nature and extent of your injuries. However, it may be challenging to prove that your fall actually caused the injuries you are experiencing.
Most likely, your healthcare providers will have to establish the link between the fall and your injuries. Sometimes lawyers try to establish the connection, or lack thereof, by deposing your healthcare providers. This can be hit and miss. Physicians often do not like to take time out of their day to give a deposition.
A better method is to approach your physician about the subject during a scheduled visit. Explain that you have a claim, and it would help you resolve the claim if your doctor provided a letter that described what injuries are attributable to the fall. Many physicians will prefer this request -- by far -- over a request for a deposition. The defense lawyer may want to depose your physician to question the contents of the letter afterward; but this may work to your favor; because now the defense lawyer is the “bad guy” that wants to take your physician’s deposition and dispute his or her conclusions.
Proving the Defendant Had 'Notice' of the Dangerous Condition
Proving a dangerous property condition existed usually is not terribly difficult. The hazardous condition was either there or it wasn’t. Pictures, incident reports, or sworn testimony can establish the existence of the condition that caused your fall.
It is more difficult to prove the property owner had notice of the hazardous condition. To prevail on your claim, you will have to either prove the property owner had actual notice of the hazardous condition or constructive notice of it (which means it was present long enough the owner should have known about it).
There are three common ways to prove a property owner had notice of a hazardous condition:
Sworn Testimony. If someone, other than you, knows how long the hazardous condition existed (and will state it on the record), that person can effectively establish a property owner’s notice of a hazard. You can try to establish notice with your own testimony; but as you may imagine, your testimony will be viewed as self-serving.
Video Surveillance. Many business owners have surveillance video of their property. The video may show how long a hazardous condition existed on an owner’s property. If you fell on someone else’s property due to a hazardous condition, and you believe there may be surveillance video of your fall, request it immediately. Surveillance cameras often record on a loop. Which means if you do not request the video before the next loop, it may be recorded over -- and lost. Loops generally range between seven days to a month.
Incident Reports. Very often businesses prepare an internal report of falls on their property. These reports are referred to as “incident reports.” The report will often describe what happened, how it happened, who witnessed it, and so forth. They may give some insight as to how long a hazardous condition existed on the property. For example, an incident report may contain a statement that says, “Customer slipped on spilled orange juice. Employee X reported the spill, but Employee Z not cleaned it up as directed by supervisor Y.”
Document Your injury
In addition to the documentation of your injuries in your medical records, it is a good idea to keep a journal in which you record experiences you have related to your injuries. For example, you may write down something like, “I tried to replace my alternator today, but I couldn’t grip my tools. So I had to hire a mechanic.”
Document Your Expenses
Keep track of every expense you incur that is reasonably connected to the injuries from your fall. You are not likely to receive compensation for any undocumented expense.
Do Not Exaggerate and Do Not Be Greedy
There is a saying: “Pigs get fed. Hogs get slaughtered.” If you try to exaggerate your injuries or ask for far more than you are entitled to, there's a really good chance it will wind up working against you.
Hire Competent Counsel
Do your research. Find out which lawyers specialize in slip and fall claims. Just because a lawyer is an outstanding medical malpractice lawyer does not mean that lawyer will be outstanding at handling your slip and fall claim. As with other areas of the law, slip and fall laws have their unique nuances. Make sure the lawyer you hire understands these nuances and how to navigate them.
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