SLIP & FALL ACCIDENTS
The “Slip and Fall” case (where a seasoned attorney really counts) is one of the most difficult types of cases because each case is so very multifaceted and therefore difficult to win. Liability for slip & fall cases arises from the area of law known in legal parlance as “premises liability” and has been said to be “perhaps the most expansive of tort law topics”. Generally speaking, when a right or duty owed to you by an owner or occupier of land (and/or building) is violated and (as a result of that violation) you are injured, your right to compensation for all resulting injuries arises. The existence of your right or the duty imposed upon the land owner or occupier generally arises from “common” law and/or “statutory law”. “Statutory” law springs from enactments of governmental bodies having jurisdiction over the land upon which the injury occurred and “common law” springs from the principles and rules of law developed (over the ages) by Courts having jurisdiction over the land. These Courts decided when compensation was due to individuals injured by land owners (and/or occupiers of land) who violated the rights and/or duties owed to those injured. This area of law can be quite simple or very elaborate, but generally speaking, it is often quite complex. Because of this, the need for an experienced attorney in this type of case is generally far more crucial to an injured person than the normal type of “tort” case, such as one involving a car accident or simple dog bite case.
The need to hire an attorney in a slip and fall case is so URGENT that often, those who wait to do so may critically decrease or even totally prevent their opportunity to be compensated. Put another way, people who don’t have an attorney shortly after a slip and fall accident occurs generally significantly decrease the amount of compensation they may collect or even lose their cases because of two reasons. First, they allow too much time to elapse in the necessary collection of critical facts or the obtaining of necessary information (e.g., witnesses’ names, addresses and phone numbers), thereby losing critical evidence needed to help prove their case. Second, they may not take certain necessary action(s) or inadvertently say, do or not do something critical. For instance, not taking (sufficient or properly clear and/or angled) pictures of the accident scene or said something incorrect or insufficient (by way of facts) to an adjuster who called, on behalf of a landowner, to take the injured person’s statement who has not yet hired an attorney.
By way of example, let’s say you fell on a banana peel in a grocery store; don’t know how the banana peel got there or how long it had been laying there and you didn’t think to take your phone out and take pictures. You are seriously injured at the accident scene, taken away by an ambulance and discharged a few days later. After you get home from the hospital (often still on pain medications), a person calls you; introduces herself as an insurance adjuster; says she is calling on behalf of the store where the accident happened, and asks if you mind her taking a recorded statement. You are glad those “responsible” are finally taking charge; wanting to know the circumstances, so they can begin their faucet of money you need to pay your medical bills, replace your lost wages, etc. – yet you are unprepared (off the seat of your pants) to give a complete factual recitation of each fact known to you of the accident, such as remembering certain seemingly insignificant/tiny facts (such as that immediately after the accident, in getting up, you noticed your foot by the banana peel which caused you to fall and the peel was very brown, looked walked upon and dirty) yet instead you simply say: “I slipped on a banana peel” and when the adjuster asks you to elaborate on any other fact of the accident or the banana peel, you (without really thinking - your mind “hazy” from the pain and/or your pain medication and wanting to get through this statement and back to the TV show you were watching when she called) answer: “It looked like an ordinary banana peel” without commenting on its apparent age, color and condition. Had you retained a lawyer to represent you, (s)he would invariably have instructed you NOT to give any statements to anyone without her/him being present and having spoken to you first to be certain you know that you must recite ALL relevant facts regarding this slip and fall accident. Instead of telling the adjuster you have an attorney and that (s)he has instructed you NOT to speak to anyone without him/her being present, you give a statement to the adjuster!
NOTE: To the QUESTION: “Of what significance are the facts that the banana peel was “brown”, “dirty” and looked “walked upon”? The ANSWER is that in this area of law, BEFORE the law imposes a duty upon the land owner or possessor to the injured person, the injured person MUST present some clear evidence that the landowner or possessor had: (a) reasonable “NOTICE” of the existence of a dangerous (i.e., a banana peel is slippery) condition; (b) had a REASONABLE amount of time to “correct” it; and (c) negligently failed to correct the dangerous condition. In this example YOU had no way of telling the (exact) amount of time the store owner knew (or should have known) of the existence of the banana peel on his floor, but your noticing (and telling the adjuster of the facts) that the banana peel was “BROWN” “OLD”, looked “WALKED UPON” and was “DIRTY” is significant evidence that the banana peel had been there for a considerable amount of time and walked upon by others in the store, or it would not have been in that condition. These “small” details provide evidence that the banana peel causing your fall (dangerous condition) was on his floor LONG ENOUGH to get brown; long enough to have been walked upon by others and long enough to get dirty AND BY FAILING TO NOTICE THIS WITHIN THAT (REASONABLE) AMOUNT OF TIME, THE LANDOWNER (OR OCCUPIER) VIOLATED a DUTY owed to YOU and the public, i.e., to keep his store free of dangerous conditions. Thus, his failure to have this dangerous condition removed makes him LIABLE/RESPONSIBLE for the injuries his FAILURE causes YOU or the general public!
This little “mistake” you made by giving a recorded statement will probably cause you to lose your case when sometime later (maybe as long as two to three years AFTER the accident) the store owner’s attorney takes your deposition and you NOW (not on medication, not in so much pain, not in the middle of your favorite TV show and having been educated by your lawyer of the importance of giving truthful, complete, well thought-through answers) say: “The banana peel was brown, old, looked walked upon and dirty”. Invariably, when you NOW testify as to those facts (and years after the accident having given the statement to the adjuster), the defense attorney will ask you “How it is that YEARS after the accident, you NOW remember something you did NOT remember or mention when the adjuster called and took your statement 3 weeks after the accident?” – are you telling the truth NOW (after hiring the [dirty rotten] lawyer who NOW represents you in this case) – or were you telling the truth when you gave your recorded statement 3 weeks after the accident, BEFORE you hired your lawyer?"
By way of another example, let’s say that near the end of winter (right before spring), there is a minor warm-up in the morning; some light rain; some snow and ice on roof tops begin to thaw, but the temperature later on in the day dips well below freezing. At approximately 8:45 p.m. that night you fall on a slick patch of ice on the walkway (seriously fracturing your arm and elbow), while walking up to a person’s front door, to deliver a pizza which had been ordered. Let’s also say there was a downspout (coming down from the house’ roof) immediately next to the ice patch on the walkway, but immediately next to the ice patch there was no other ice around. You don’t notice these facts at the time of your fall, because of the extreme pain in your arm, but do so when you get up from the ground, deliver the pizza and ask the homeowner to call an ambulance, which then takes you to a nearby hospital. You did not (or have anyone else go in your stead) take pictures of where you fell. The pictures would have shown the downspout next to the walkway where you fell. Three weeks after the accident (you think: “Finally!”) an adjuster calls; tells you she has been given this matter to handle on behalf of the homeowner and “Would you mind allowing her to take this recorded statement?” You (not having an attorney, yet believing the homeowner or his insurance company is responsible and will have to take care of everything because this is his land) say “Yes” and give her a recorded statement regarding the facts of the accident, simply telling her you fell on a patch of ice walking up to deliver the pizza.
The adjuster (as in the prior example) asks you to elaborate and give her all additional facts you know about this accident and (now 3 weeks after the accident) you say that is all you remember. After getting all your personal information (your full name, address, phone number, your employer’s information, your rate of pay, etc., as well as the names of all medical personnel who have treated you thus far) she tells you she will finish her investigation of this matter and get back to you shortly. Another 2 weeks go by and you get a letter from the insurance company, saying they are very sorry this happened, but they will not be paying any of your medical bills, lost wages or anything else for that matter and are closing their file on this matter. You can’t understand what happened, only then realizing something is terribly wrong.
You start looking and finally get in to see a lawyer who asks you a series of questions and in answering them, you tell him the same facts you gave to the adjuster. It is now well into spring; there is no snow or ice anymore; you have not been back to the house since the accident and cannot really remember exactly where you fell on the walkway. You tell him you assumed that since you “got hurt on someone else’s property” which had ice on the sidewalk, they “were responsible.” The lawyer tells you that your assumption is grossly incorrect and that in Illinois, as a general rule, the owner or possessor of property has no duty to remove natural conditions, such as snow, ice or water from the land! He may (or may not, depending upon whether he has handled many “slip and fall” cases) take the time to take you to the home where this accident occurred and have you walk it again, looking closely at the walkway where you fell and ask you if you remember any additional facts, other than those that you provided to the adjuster and him during this consultation he had with you. Maybe you do remember the additional, critical facts, maybe you don’t . . . if you don’t you probably don’t have a case!
HOWEVER while in Illinois the owner or possessor of property has no duty to remove natural conditions, such as snow, ice or water from the land, IF the owner or possessor of the land does something to CREATE the dangerous condition upon his/her premises, (s)he becomes LIABLE TO YOU for injuries arising from having created the dangerous condition - in this case, the a patch of ice formed by the drainage of the downspout on the premises upon which you fell! In this instance, by putting the downspout in a position which drains upon the walkway and (in the cold of winter) causes ice to form on a walkway at that particular location where you fell, the land owner/possessor has VIOLATED his duty to keep his land free of dangerous conditions and VIOLATED your right (as well as the public’s right) to reasonably expect a safe walkway to the front door of the premises, in order to do your job of delivering the pizza he ordered.
The foregoing two examples are only 2 of the many actual cases handled/saved by me in time because they were Clients of mine at the time of the accident and called me in time for me to investigate and get the facts necessary to proceed with a case, ultimately obtaining significant compensation for both of these Clients. In this highly complex area of law, MANY slip and fall cases turn on very (oftentimes “tiny”) specific facts; and the more time that elapses before you go to an attorney, the greater the likelihood you may lose what would otherwise have been an opportunity to receive compensation to the full extent of the law (from the owner/possessor of the premises) for your injuries.
I could go on and on discussing the many “slip and fall” cases I’ve handled over the past 38 years, and they almost always turn upon critical (sometimes seemingly tiny) facts. Often, the defendant(s) in these types of cases raise significant issues that can totally bar/prevent you from collecting any compensation for your injuries. The concepts of “contributory negligence”, “open and obvious hazards”, “natural conditions”, “lack of notice”, “unforeseeability”, “immunity”, “criminal acts of third parties”, etc., etc., oftentimes work to either totally bar/prevent injured persons fully from being compensated or work to significantly lessen the compensation normally due them for the type of injury(ies) sustained by them in the slip and fall/premises liability accident.
For all the foregoing reasons, IT IS IMPERATIVE THAT YOU NOT ONLY RETAIN A LAWYER AS SOON AS POSSIBLE AFTER THE SLIP AND FALL OCCURS, BUT ALSO, ONE THAT HAS PRACTICED A LONG WHILE AND HANDLED MANY DIFFERENT TYPES OF SLIP AND FALL CASES DURING HIS PRACTICE.
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