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All You Ever Wanted to Know About Slip & Fall Accident Cases But Were Afraid to Ask

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Trip and Fall FAQ


How would you describe a slip and fall accident?

Slip and fall accidents are one of the most common types of personal injuries that people can suffer from. A slip and fall can occur wherever there is any kind of trip hazard on public or private property, whether it is a slippery floor, an unmarked ledge, or a loose cable.

The three elements that define a personal injury case are:

  1. The injury itself.
  2. The nature of the hazard that causes the fall.
  3. The identity of the owner who is responsible for the hazard.

Most slip and fall accidents will occur at large consumer venues where a trip hazard is overlooked or not taken care of properly. For example, a wet spot in the grocery aisle of Walmart that was not cleaned up promptly, or a cable stretched along the floor at Home Depot that is not marked or secured properly. Every property owner has a responsibility to ensure the safety of their consumers and their guests while on their property.

Slip Fall 3 Things Infographic

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How long do slip and fall cases take to settle?

While slip and fall accidents may appear to be simple matters, they are often some of the most complex and difficult personal injury cases to resolve. The key legal tenant that governs fault in a slip and fall case is whether a trip hazard is known, or should have been known, by the responsible party. Many times a property owner’s main defense in a slip and fall lawsuit is that the owner did not know, and could not have known that the hazard existed in the first place. What this boils down to is whether a company or property owner acted with enough prudence to prevent a hazard or not. A grocery store such as Mariano’s may have cleaning schedules every 15 minutes to ensure no water or slippery substances exist on the floor. If there is evidence that a cleaning inspection was skipped or performed negligently, this becomes evidence that an employer should have acted differently to prevent an accident. However, without this evidence, it becomes difficult to prove that a property owner acted negligently; their conduct must then be weighed against the standard of reasonableness of other property owners.

To add to the difficulty in proving liability, oftentimes larger retail chains will subcontract their cleaning or maintenance services to third party companies. So even if you fall and hurt yourself on Costco property, Costco may not be the proper party to file a lawsuit against. Locating the proper party can be challenging and time-consuming. The property owner may refuse to cooperate or freely provide their information to the injured party. Slip and fall cases can be an uphill battle at the best of times.

Despite their inherent difficulty, slip and fall cases can also have substantial payouts to injured parties. Many large retailers like Jewel-Osco or Target will prefer to settle a slip and fall lawsuit out of court rather than go to trial, in order to avoid negative publicity or risk a wave of claimants raising a class action lawsuit against them. A shrewd attorney will be able to leverage this against the defending party to secure generous settlements for their injured clients.

How much money does Walmart settle for slip and fall accidents?

Walmart gets sued very often, close to 5,000 cases are brought against the company each year. Majority of such claims come from Walmart’s employees and customers, often due to injuries sustained in slip and fall accidents on the store’s premises. Many of these cases have been settled out of court. The amount of those settlements vary from case to case. Some cases have been settled for tens of thousands of dollars and some for much more—hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

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How much is a slip and fall accident worth?

The financial value of a slip and fall case largely depends on the nature and severity of the injury itself. Many times, the medical expenses incurred by an injured party can be considered the bare minimum value that a personal injury case is worth. If you fall and break your finger, a property owner can be expected to pay for the cost of mending the broken finger, any intangible expenses associated with the loss of a finger during this time, and a good faith reimbursement for the trauma and pain associated with the accident. In a situation where you fall and injure your spine or head, these expenses will increase exponentially given the long-term care required and/or intangible loss of overall quality of life. These are all factors that weigh in on how much a slip and fall case will end up settling for.

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Contact a Chicago Slip and Fall Accident Attorney

If you were involved in a slip and fall accident, it is crucial that you obtain an attorney who can advocate on your behalf. The Chicago slip and fall injury lawyers at The Kryder Law Group specialize in tackling the inherent difficulties of slip and fall cases, and have a proven track record in getting results for victims of slip and fall accidents.

Are slip and fall cases hard to win?

The main factor that determines the complexity of a slip and fall accident case is what’s called Burden of Proof. Burden of Proof is a legal phrase you have likely heard before.  In a court of law, allegations must be proven with sworn testimony and tangible evidence.  The person making an allegation, has the burden of proving the allegations made.  Put another way, the person making a claim has an obligation to demonstrate that their position is correct based on all available evidence.   For example, if a person slipped in a grocery store they would have the “burden of proving” the store was negligent and therefore responsible for the accident.

What does “burden of proof” mean in a civil case?

You must be persuaded, considering all the evidence in the case, that a proposition is more probably true than not.  The context for this definition can be found in Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction 21.01 which the Judge will read to jurors.

Who has the burden of proof?

In a civil case, the person alleging wrongdoing or negligence has the burden of proving those allegations.   The person filing a lawsuit is called the Plaintiff.  The Plaintiff sets forth in the lawsuit certain allegations, which if proven by evidence, would entitle the Plaintiff to recover money damages.  The Defendant is the person or entity the Plaintiff has accused of wrongdoing.  For example, imagine Jane Doe slips on water in the freezer aisle of Costco and breaks her leg.  In this example, Jane Doe would be the Plaintiff and Costco would be the Defendant.  Jane Doe would set forth certain allegations in her lawsuit, which if proven, would entitle her to compensation under Illinois law.  The lawsuit may allege that Costco failed to properly inspect the premises or failed to post warnings of dangerous conditions.  Jane Doe has the burden of proving each allegation in her lawsuit.

Is it hard to prove a slip and fall case?

It can be very challenging to meet your burden of proof as a Plaintiff in a personal injury case.  Ultimately, a jury may be asked to examine all of the evidence and make a judgment on whether you have fulfilled your burden of proof.   Illinois law does not require a Plaintiff to prove matters with 100 percent certainty.  Obviously the stronger your evidence the better, but a standard requiring absolute certainty would be very difficult to achieve.  Many people are familiar with the term “beyond a reasonable doubt.”  This standard only applies in a criminal setting and not a personal injury civil lawsuit.

In a civil case, the burden of proof is described by the phrase “Preponderance of Evidence.”  In Illinois, a proposition must be shown to be “more probably true than not.”  This standard is referred to as a “Preponderance of the Evidence.” This phrase does not mean 100 percent certainty.  It is more accurate to say that a “Preponderance of the Evidence” is at least 50.01 percent certainty.  Even with this standard proving your case can be difficult.

Your attorney should begin gathering evidence as soon as possible.  Witness statements, accident reports, video, photographs, medical records, store policies, store procedures are all useful things to gather.

What must I demonstrate to fulfill my burden of proof in a slip and fall case?

In Illinois, a Judge will instruct the jury using Illinois Pattern Jury Instruction 21.02 regarding what the Plaintiff has the burden of proving.  Three propositions must be established by a preponderance of evidence for the Plaintiff to win their case and recovery money.

  • First, that the defendant acted or failed to act in one of the ways claimed by the plaintiff as stated to you in these instructions and that in so acting, or failing to act, the defendant was negligent.
  • Second, that the plaintiff was injured.
  • Third, that the negligence of the defendant was a proximate cause of the injury to the plaintiff.

The Judge will conclude by stating:

If you find from your consideration of all the evidence that each of these propositions has been proved, then your verdict should be for the plaintiff. On the other hand, if you find from your consideration of all the evidence that any of these propositions has not been proved, then your verdict should be for the defendant.

Let’s put this jury instruction into context with an example.  Imagine you fell and broke your arm at Walmart because a store employee forgot to post a wet floor sign after she mopped up a spill.  To fulfill the first factor, you would need to present evidence that the store employee failed to clean up the spill properly and because of their negligence you fell.  You might be able to use store cleaning policies to show the employee failed to follow written guidelines thus proving Walmart failed to properly clean the floors.

Second, you would need to produce medical evidence documenting your broken arm.  Calling an emergency room doctor to discuss your x-ray and provide medical opinions would likely satisfy the burden of proof for the second element.

Third, you must show “proximate cause.”  This means a link that one thing caused another.  In our example, you would need to show that the negligence of the store employee led to your fall and the consequence was a broken arm.  Each of these three factors would need to be proven by a preponderance of evidence or by at least 50.01 percent certainly.

Slip Fall Burden of Proof Infographic

Let the experienced Chicago slip and fall attorneys at The Kryder Law Group help answer your questions about burden of proof and proximate cause in your trip and fall injury case.

Common Examples of Premises Liability Cases

  1. Slip and Fall cases
  • Leaking water from coolers or refrigerators
  • Debris or substances left on the floor
  • Failure to post warnings of a substance on the floor
  • Failure to clean substances in a timely manner
  1. Trip and Fall
  • Uneven floor surfaces leading to falls
  • Trip hazards allowed to remain in high foot traffic areas
  • Uneven sidewalks
  • Torn carpeting creating snags
  1. Failure to maintain property conditions
  • Poorly maintained exits and entrances
  • Failure to follow local municipal codes during construction or repairs
  • Uneven stairs
  • Missing handrails
  • Poor lighting

How does a slip and fall case work?

One of the most common torts or personal injury claims arises from a slip and fall accident.  Whether an individual slips on liquid on the floor in a Jewel grocery store or trips on a crack on a sidewalk, slip and fall accidents occur every day.  Each case is different and the unique set of facts will often determine whether you can recover.  It is important to understand how a slip and fall personal injury case works as well as the typical cases you may encounter.

Slip and Fall Accident Cases in Illinois

In Illinois, the Premises Liability Act establishes a duty upon a property owner of reasonable care under the circumstances regarding the state of the premises or acts done or omitted.  Generally, liability may be imposed where an individual is injured in a slip and fall when (1) it appears the owner knew of the dangerous condition or (2) that the condition was there a sufficient length of time that the owner should have known of the condition.

Put another way, an injured party is required to prove the owner or responsible party had actual or constructive notice.  You need to prove that the owner knew or should have known.  You must also prove that the condition that caused the injury is dangerous.  Regardless, successfully navigating a premises injury case is often complicated and requires critical, detailed analysis.

Common Slip and Fall Accident Cases

It is critical to understand the legal elements necessary to prove your case and the common types of cases:

A slip and fall in a grocery store on debris in an aisle.

One of the most common causes of a fall is from debris on the ground in an aisle.  In self-service stores where customer traffic is heavy and the probability of a slip and fall therefore high, a business owner owes a duty to frequently and carefully inspect and patrol aisles.  Stores owe customers a duty of reasonable care.  However frequently debris, food products, produce or liquid will fall onto the floor and cause a fall.  Your attorney will attempt to establish constructive notice or that the store should have known of the condition by inspecting the aisles.  Constructive notice is established where a condition has existed for such a length of time, or was so conspicuous, that grocery store clerks exercising reasonable care and diligence might have known of the condition.

An attorney can obtain critical evidence to establish constructive notice through videos throughout the store which may establish how long the substance was on the floor.  Also, through discovery requests an attorney can obtain employee handbooks and training manuals.   A careful review may disclose a failure to follow a store’s policies and procedures regarding safety or inspections.

Restaurants or stores fail to warn of liquid on the floor.

Another common cause of a slip and fall is liquid on the ground.  Sometimes other customers may spill a beverage or a product will leak onto the floor.  Employees have a duty to perform inspections and walk the premises to identify dangerous conditions such as liquid.  Wet floor caution signs should be displayed to warn customers of hazards.  An injured party should attempt to photograph the condition that caused the fall.  Your attorney may be able to develop evidence that the liquid existed for sufficient length of time based upon pictures or your description.  For example, foot prints or debris in the liquid are evidence that the spill existed long enough that it should have been discovered by employees.  Video or inspection logs may also provide critical evidence.

A landlord fails to maintain the stairway or building.

Landlords are often found responsible when individuals are injured as a result of poor maintenance and upkeep.  Building owners have a duty of reasonable care and to maintain property up to local building code standards.  Unfortunately, not all building owners maintain their property and this often leads to common accidents. Landlords will fail to properly maintain exits and entrances.   Carpets and mats can become trip hazards as they wear down.  Improper exterior lighting can also lead to a fall.   Stairways are also a common source of falls.  Stairs can become uneven, worn or lack required handrails leading to falls and serious injuries.   It is important to notify your landlord of any dangerous condition in writing just in case an accident occurs in the future.

Slip and fall on snow or ice.

During the winter, countless people are injured in falls due to snow and ice.  Unfortunately, these cases can be difficult to prove because Illinois follows the unnatural accumulation doctrine.  This means that an injured party needs to show that the snow and ice was not a natural accumulation or weather.  For example, if a snow removal company clears a parking lot and creates a pile of snow this would be an unnatural accumulation.  Another typical example may be ice accumulating on gutters or downspouts due to the building design or poor maintenance of gutters.  Essentially, an injured party must show that an owner aggravated or acted in a way to cause the natural condition to become unnatural.  It is also critical to determine whether any snow removal company was responsible for clearing the premises.

Slip Fall on Ice Snow Infographic

Want to know if you have a case? Contact the experienced slip and fall accident attorneys at The Kryder Law Group for a free consultation.

Trip and fall on cracks in the pavement.

You can recover if you trip and fall on uneven pavement, a pothole or cracks in a sidewalk.  However, if the condition is minor you may be barred from recovery.  The de minimis rule precludes recovery by allowing a court to rule as a matter of law that a condition is not dangerous.  For example, some courts have maintained that a deviation between uneven slabs of pavement must be at least 2 inches high to be recoverable.  An injured party should immediately photograph or video the scene of the injury including the specific condition that caused the fall.  Consider using a tape measure or other common items such as loose change to add scale.

Contact a Premises Liability Law Firm

You should immediately contact the personal injury attorneys at The Kryder Law Group.  Typically, premises injury cases are litigated because liability is disputed.  This means an attorney files a lawsuit against the responsible party.  Determining all at fault parties can be a difficult task.  In litigation, your attorney will have an opportunity to develop evidence to support all necessary elements to prove your case. Call the personal injury attorneys at The Kryder Law Group to discuss your case, legal rights and options.

What should I do if I am injured in a fall?

Collecting Evidence After a Fall

After you have suffered a fall and sustained injuries there are key pieces of evidence that will assist in the investigation of your claim and may ultimately decide liability.

What should I look for after a fall?

It is important to look for the following information or items after the fall:

  • A representative of the business or establishment to report the fall.
  • An incident report.
  • Identify what caused your fall.
  • Video Surveillance.
  • Pictures
  • Witnesses

Who should I tell about my fall?

The first person or persons that should know about the fall is a representative for the business and/or establishment. It is important to tell a representative so they can report it and create an incident report for the fall.

An incident report for a slip and fall is the equivalent of a police report for a motor vehicle accident. The incident report is a written document that gathers information to memorialize the incident. Most incident reports will collect your name, contact information and provide a narrative detailing how the accident happened. It will also include any known witness information, notations if pictures were taken, your injuries, and other relevant information.

It is important to make sure you review the incident report to make sure that your version of events is accurately captured. Make sure you receive a copy of the incident report for your own records.

Witnesses

The incident report may capture any known witnesses but you should still record witness information to be safe. Slip and fall cases can hinge on whether someone other than a party saw the fall. Witnesses can provide unbiased accounts of an incident and their testimony is weighed heavily.

Ask a witness if they would give you their name, phone number, address or email to be contacted to memorialize the details they may know concerning your fall. A witness may be able to discuss the mechanism of the fall, identify the substance or condition that caused the fall, the length of time the condition was present, and your injuries. Keeping good contact information for witnesses may  be your smoking gun in getting a fast and positive outcome in your claim.

Should I take pictures?

Absolutely! Pictures memorialize the details when you may not remember at a later time. Pictures will assist in recreating the condition and details of your fall if needed. Taking pictures of the area of the fall, any substances or conditions, your injuries, employee name tags, your clothes and shoes will all help and benefit your claim.

What about video surveillance?

Today, buildings and businesses are under constant video surveillance for security purposes. As a result, your accident may have been captured by surveillance. A formal request must be made to preserve any video surveillance that may have captured the accident. To ensure that any and all video surveillance is preserved for review,  request that the a representative save any video and send a written request via certified mail requesting “any video captured on the date of the accident be saved for review.”

Unexpected Evidence Requests

Surprisingly, attorneys and insurance companies for businesses have been requesting the following items or information as evidence into slip and falls:

  • Receipts  – Slip and falls often occur while you are a customer of a store. Keeping a copy of your receipt establishes that you were lawfully on the premises at the time of the incident. Make sure you keep the receipt or take a picture of it and save the picture to an email.
  • Pictures/Descriptions of Clothing – Remember what you wore the day of the accident. Video and picture footage may not be the best quality or your accident happened in a crowd. It’s important to remember what you wore so you can be identified in pictures and videos.
  • Pictures/Description of Shoes – Remember the type of shoes you were wearing the day of the accident. You will often be asked to identify the time of shoes you were wearing as evidence of whether you contributed to your fall in any way because you did not wear the proper shoes for the condition of the premises. This argument rarely stands but it will be asked. Make sure you take pictures of the top, side and bottom of your shoes and store the pictures somewhere safe.

The evidence that can be collected for a slip and fall are critical to the investigation. Remembering to gather all evidence can be frustrating and daunting. Contacting an experienced law firm can make this process so much easier.

What injuries can I get from falling?

 A slip and fall, which make up about twelve percent of the eight million emergency room visits, may cause several different types of injuries. Generally, the types of injuries can be broken into two categories: soft tissue and fractures.

Soft Tissue Injuries

These types of injuries, though very painful, generally cannot be identified by the naked eye. Diagnostic imaging is typically used to help the treating physicians diagnose these types of injuries. Sprains, bruises, and tears in ligaments may hurt right away and you may even turn down treatment at the scene. It is not only until several hours later, when you are at home relaxing or working, that you realize something is wrong and that you may be hurt.

Fractures

Whether it is a hairline fracture or a compound break, the pain in these injuries manifest right away. They require immediate attention by a medical professional otherwise the problem will worsen. The break in the bone may be severe enough that it might require surgery.

Spinal Injury

The vertebrae in your back are there to protect your spinal cord. Though resilient, these bones are not invincible. The spine can be injured by violent or sudden twisting, improper stretching, or by direct trauma. By extension, it is possible to injure the nerves which send their signals to the spine. Spinal and nerve injuries are serious because they may be permanent and could result in a loss of sensation or use of limbs.

Traumatic Brain Injury (“TBI”)

Like injuries to your spine, you can injure your brain in a slip and fall whether or not you hit your head on the ground. This is because the sudden start and stop of your fall is enough to cause a jolt that may injury your brain. This is like getting whiplash in a motor vehicle accident: you may not hit your head but the sudden snapping motion will hurt.

How long will I be sore for?

There is no clear answer because it will depend on the person and the severity of the injury. It is not uncommon for a sprain or bruise to bother you for several weeks while broken bones will require a couple months of allowing the bone to heal.  Injuries to ligaments may require longer periods of time to heal because blood does not reach those tissues as often as other parts of your body. Your medical doctor will examine you and see what type of additional diagnostic imaging and treatment will be needed. Always consult with a medical professional regarding any injuries or pain you may feel in your body.

What happens to your body after a fall?

As discussed above, your body may not even recognize that it has been injured until well after the fact. It may take time for your body to respond to the trauma it received. However, pain is your body’s way of telling you that something is wrong. Your medical doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medicine to help aid the body in its mission to reduce swelling. He or she may also prescribe a type of painkiller to help make the healing process tolerable. While your body is recovering from a fall, it is important to listen to your doctor. Ignoring your injuries or treatment plans may result in secondary injuries which may become permanent or chronic in nature.

What are common defenses to a slip and fall case?

Many potential clients are unsure about what exactly makes a fall case compensable.  As discussed below, there are several common defenses used by insurance companies and their defendants to argue that a given fall is not their fault and is thus not compensable.  Notably, whether the fall happens inside or outside will determine what common defenses apply.

Common Defenses to Outside Slip and Fall Cases – Accidents on Snow and Ice

The main defense to falls that occur due to snow and ice is what is called the Natural Accumulation Doctrine or Natural Accumulation Defense.  Clients often assume that simply falling on snow or ice in front of a property is sufficient to establish a compensable case.  This is incorrect.  The snow or ice that causes a person to fall must be an unnatural accumulation.  This means that snow or ice formed without the aid or intervention of the defendant is insufficient to establish a compensable claim.  See Graham v. City of Chicago, 346 Ill. 638, 641 (1931).

An unnatural accumulation is a condition that forms due to the property owner or property manager’s intervention or negligence.  One of the most common examples involves how rainwater or snowmelt is diverted away from the defendant’s property.  If a drainpipe runs from a property owner’s roof and drains on a walkway, and that runoff freezes into ice, then it is an unnatural accumulation. In this example, the owner of the property has diverted naturally occurring rain or snow melt and diverted it onto an established walkway, thus creating an unnatural condition.  If that unnatural condition then causes someone to fall, the injuries resulting therefrom are compensable.

Natural Accumulation Defense

Based on the above, attorneys for property owners will always assert that the dangerous condition was a natural accumulation and that the defendant is not responsible.  Relying on the above example, the defense would assert that the alleged ice was not caused by the drainpipe but was formed by natural weather phenomenon.  An easy way to counter this argument is to go out to the property in the rain or snow and document the flow of water out of that drainpipe.  Experts can also be retained to examine the property and opine on the drainage and cause of the dangerous condition.

Common Defenses to Slip and Fall Cases in Inside Fall Accidents

Natural Accumulation Extension

An important extension of the natural accumulation rule must also be noted: water or snow that is tracked into a store on customers’ shoes is considered a natural accumulation and is not compensable.  See Swartz v. Sears Roebuck Co.¸264 Ill. App. 3d 254, 265 (1st Dist. 1993). The most common example is when someone falls in the entrance way to a store because the entrance became saturated with water and snow from foot traffic.  This means that a person who slips and falls in a store entrance due to tracked-in water likely does not have a compensable claim.

Notice – Actual Notice vs. Constructive Notice

An issue that will almost always arise in premises cases is whether the defendant knew or should have known about the defect.  Actual notice exists when an employee of the defendant literally knew of the dangerous condition and did not fix it.  For example, if there is a spill in a grocery store and an employee walks past it, but chooses to ignore it, the store had actual notice of the dangerous condition

More often, a defendant will not admit that they knew of the defect.  Since actual notice is exceedingly rare, plaintiff’s need to establish constructive notice.  Constructive notice is established where a condition has existed for such a length of time, or was so conspicuous, that authorities exercising reasonable care and diligence should have known of the condition. Burke v. Grillo, 227 Ill. App. 3d 9, 18 (1992).  The usual standard in Illinois is that a dangerous condition must have been in existence for at least 15 minutes for there to be constructive notice.  Now, using the above example, if there is a spill in a grocery store aisle, and no employee sees it, but it was there for over 15 minutes, or there were employees nearby who should have seen it, then one can establish a strong argument for constructive notice.

Open and Obvious Defense

One defense to fall cases that is often asserted by the defense is that the condition which caused the plaintiff fall was “open and obvious.”  Take for example a situation where someone is exiting a box store with a large box and walks directly into a guard rail or post that is immediately in front of the doorway.  Defendants will argue that because the curb or post is easy to see, it is therefore open and obvious, and any injuries resulting therefrom are not compensable.  Notably, Illinois Courts have ruled under the “K-Mart” standard that these cases are potentially compensable if the “open and obvious” condition is still placed in a way that someone is foreseeably able to become injured by it.  Specifically, if a person exits a box store and walks out the exit doors into a post, those posts could foreseeably cause injury as they are immediately outside of the exit doors.

Contact Illinois Slip & Fall Accident Attorneys

If you or a loved one has been injured in a slip and fall accident, you should contact the Chicago premises liability lawyers at The Kryder Law Group. To schedule a free initial consultation, please call (312) 598-0739 or send us an email using the contact page on our website.

 

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