How to Recover Damages in a Slip and Fall Accident
Driving a car is generally understood to carry a substantial risk of accidental injury as drivers are required to carry insurance to cover accident-related costs. Walking on public property, however, has a reputation for being safe, despite many people sustaining serious injuries in slip and fall accidents each year that have life-long consequences. When the injured slip and fall victim is an employee, they can just file a worker’s compensation claim, but what happens if you were a customer or guest at the property where you got injured in a slip and fall accident? You can recover damages by either making a demand and settling your case pre-suit or by filing and prevailing in a personal injury lawsuit. In order to prevail in a premises liability (or slip and fall) case, you need to successfully demonstrate that the fall occurred because of negligence on the part of the property owner.
What You Must Prove in a Slip and Fall Case
Since slip and fall cases are a type of personal injury lawsuit (referred to as a premises liability case), winning your case depends on your ability to prove that your injuries and their associated financial losses are because of the defendant’s negligence. Specifically, you must prove the following things:
- The defendant is legally responsible for the premises where the accident took place. If you slipped and fell at a local restaurant, then the restaurant owner is the defendant. If the accident happened at a big box retail store, then the defendant is the corporation. If you got injured in an accident at someone else’s house, the lawsuit is against the homeowner or landlord. According to the law, there is a higher standard for how much businesses must do to prevent accidents that injure visitors on their premises than the standard required of owners of residential properties. This requirement is often referred to as a “duty.”
- An unsafe condition existed on the property. Further, the property owner knew about the condition or should have known about the problem. Unsafe conditions that a property owner may have a duty to correct include wet floors, defective steps, debris on floors, ice or snow buildup, and potholes to name a few.
- The accident could have been prevented if the defendant used reasonable caution.
- Because of the defendant’s negligence, an accident happened, and you became injured.
- You suffered damages (i.e. financial losses or experienced pain and suffering). You need to show provable injuries, supported by medical bills and records.
Proving the Existence of Dangerous Conditions
After a car accident, the drivers take pictures of the vehicle damage and of the site of the accident for purposes of recording evidence if later there is any question about how the accident happened. Likewise, in a slip and fall accident, the strength of a victim’s case rests on their ability to show that the premises were dangerous. For instance, if you were injured by falling on the floor of a retail store or restaurant, the following pieces of evidence might support your case:
- Photographs of the uneven surface of the floor or the icy walkway
- Security camera footage showing an employee mopping the floor shortly before you walked there and not placing a “wet floor” sign
- If you slipped on the ice outside a place of business, news reports published on the day of the accident about weather conditions
Proving That the Defendant Should Have Known About the Hazardous Conditions and Prevented Them
Remember that businesses have a legal responsibility to maintain a safe environment for visitors. They undergo certain types of safety inspections and maintenance each day that they are open for business, and others on a weekly, monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis. Therefore, the following pieces of evidence can help prove your case that the defendant had a responsibility to discover and remedy the dangerous conditions:
- A copy of the store’s schedule of inspections by designated employees, showing that an employee had to have seen the slippery floor and should have remedied it or placed a “caution” sign
- Security camera footage showing that employees did not inspect the safe conditions of the floors as often as required by company policy
- A copy of the store’s records of internal or external inspections for safety
Showing That You Were Not Being Careless
While you, the plaintiff, present evidence that the accident was the result of the defendant’s negligence, the defendant will present evidence that the accident was at least partially your fault. Missouri is a comparative negligence state, so whatever percentage of fault you bear for the accident, the court will reduce the damages it awards to you by that percentage. If you deserve $80,000, but the court determines that the accident was 10% your fault, your damage award would be reduced to $72,000. Security camera footage will show that you were not running on the slippery floor or looking at your phone instead of paying attention to your surroundings. If there is no security camera footage of the site of the accident, your cell phone records can show that you were not opening or sending messages immediately before the accident. You should hire an attorney very quickly after a slip and fall evidence so you can send a letter to the potential defendant not to “spoliate” or delete any relevant evidence. Most entities that videotape their property for security purposes, regularly delete old tape after a certain period of time. You need to put the defendant on notice of your claim so that they do not delete any relevant evidence. Your attorney should send a “spoliation letter” very quickly after a slip and fall or premises liability incident. If the defendant then deletes or discards relevant evidence after being put on notice of a potential claim, there will be serious adverse consequences against that defendant. In fact, a judge may order that a jury find that the evidence that was “spoliated” must have been unfavorable to the defendant.
A Preponderance of the Evidence
It is difficult to prove the defendant’s negligence with 100% certainty, but in many slip and fall cases, you do not have to. The standard of evidence in personal injury cases in Missouri and Kansas is a preponderance of the evidence, which means that the burden of proof is met when the party with the burden convinces the jury that there is a greater than 50% chance that the claim is true. You can still win your case even if the judge or jury believe that there is a small chance that you were being less careful than you say you were.