Let’s say you are at the supermarket, shopping mall, hardware store, or even walking on the sidewalk in New York. Despite walking carefully and in no hurry, you slip on ice, a foreign substance, or maybe you trip over an uneven portion of sidewalk. What are the general rules governing slip/trip and fall accidents?
If you slip and fall and there are people around, (even if you are in a lot of pain), try to get the names, phone numbers and addresses of any witnesses. They will be critical if you plan to pursue a claim, and too often, the identity of these witnesses (even if they have stopped to assist you) is lost once medical help arrives. Remember that insurance companies and the attorneys who defend their insureds are notoriously skeptical people, and always assume that the accident was your fault–i.e. not looking where you were going, in a hurry to get to an appointment, you’re unsteady on your feet, or perhaps you were wearing the wrong type of footwear for inclement conditions. In our firm’s experience, when we have a witness who can corroborate our client’s version of the accident (especially someone who never met the client before) cases tend to settle well before they ever reach trial and frequently in the early stages of the claim.
The next critical thing to remember is to take photographs of the scene of the accident, if at all possible. The ice will melt, the spilled cleaner will be removed, and even that defective section of sidewalk will very often be repaired by the time you walk into the lawyer’s office. Thus, if you have a camera phone, or if a friend or the witness has a camera, take photographs of the condition–We can’t emphasize this enough!
It is vital that if your accident happens at a store, restaurant, or other place where the public is invited, that you report the accident. Insurance companies will always refer to the “unreported accident” as a basis for the denial of a claim, and thus reporting of the accident is instrumental to a successful claim. Further, make every effort to obtain a copy of the report, especially if you are asked to sign it. Otherwise, the attorney will not know what is in the report until the case is in litigation–no insurance company exchanges an accident report until their lawyers tell them to do so.
If you rent an apartment or house, and there is some dangerous condition on the premises, such as a broken or uneven stair, lack of lighting, or the landlord fails to sand or salt the driveway or stairways, make sure you send a written report of the condition to the landlord’s attention; in fact, send the letter by certified mail. Subsequently, if you are in an accident due to one of these conditions, the attorney will be able to establish written notice of the condition prior to the accident, which is essential if the case goes to court.
If you are injured in an accident on a public sidewalk or property, a notice of claim must be filed with that municipality within 90 days after the accident, so it is essential that you consult a lawyer immediately. Many municipalities have codes which establish that you may not sue unless the municipality was given written notice of the defective condition prior to the accident, which obviously is virtually impossible when you have fallen on a transient condition like an icy sidewalk.
Lastly, keep in mind that if you fall on ice or snow during the course of a snowstorm, the law prevents a claim from being made; the property owner has several hours after the storm has stopped to remove the snow or ice from his premises.