You have just tripped on an uneven step in your apartment building complex, or slipped and fell in a parking lot where the owner failed to shovel and apply salt, or stepped into a hole that the property owner neglected to repair, and you have suffered a serious injury. Maybe you have never been injured in your life, never filed a claim, certainly never been involved in a lawsuit. Now you are injured, will require significant medical treatment, and will likely to be unable to work for some time due to the negligence of the property owner or manager. What should you do, even before you contact an attorney?
1. Try to identify any witnesses, and to the extent possible, obtain their names and phone numbers or email addresses. This is critical, as insurance companies approach unwitnessed accidents with a great deal of skepticism. Further, if the case reaches trial, it is vital to have another person (preferably someone unrelated to you if possible) who can verify the dangerous conditions and how the accident happened.
2. To the extent that you are able to do so, take photographs of the uneven step, icy sidewalk, or other dangerous conditions. If you are unable to do so due to the pain, try to ask someone nearby to you use your cell phone and take photographs. This is another critical piece of evidence to support your case, which in the case of a transient condition such as an icy sidewalk, might no longer exist the next day and cannot be duplicated to show an insurance adjuster or a jury, if necessary.
3. Report your accident to the property owner when possible, or if there is no owner available or known, report the accident to the police so that a report is prepared which confirms the location, date, time and description of your accident and injuries.
4. Get yourself to the nearest emergency room or primary care doctor for evaluation and treatment if necessary. Many times clients are in a great deal of pain, but postpone getting treated, with the idea that “I’ll feel better tomorrow”, or they are fearful of hospitals in general. The problem is that this can be dangerous (for example, if you suffer a concussion immediate treatment can be very important) and insurance carriers take into consideration the failure to go for immediate medical treatment when analyzing a case.
5. Don’t speak with anyone from the insurance company for the owner of the property, who may call you to obtain a recorded or written statement. They are trained to ask questions in a fashion which will inevitably attribute culpability of the accident to you.
6. Whatever you do, do not sign anything without meeting with an attorney first. Often, an insurance adjuster will approach a person who has been injured in an accident with a token offer of settlement, in exchange for the injured person’s signature on a “general release”, which if signed, will likely terminate that person’s rights to pursue legal remedies for their injuries.