By: Karen Piso Nadeau, Esquire
The Question & Answer
At my firm Nadeau Harkavy LLC, located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, we receive many calls from potential clients asking if they have a good case to pursue compensation for the harm caused to them in a trip and fall accident. Often, they are injured, lost time from work, have medical bills for the treatment they received following the accident, and feel overwhelmed by everything.
They often ask us:
Do I have any rights to recover money for my injuries due to a trip and fall accident?
The answer we give is this:
You may have a good case to recover money if you are injured due to a trip and fall on someone else’s property, but it depends on several factors that we will evaluate with you to determine if you have strong facts to support a claim against the person, entity or business that is to blame for your trip and fall and resulting harm from it.
As part of the evaluation of your trip and fall case, we ask some detailed questions surrounding the accident events to determine whether there is a strong case to be made against the person or business responsible for your injuries. The successful cases where we recover money for our clients have some common themes and risk factors that show dangerous conditions existed. This blog will explore some of the typical trip and fall scenarios that we encounter in our law practice and explain some of the significant factors to consider in deciding whether you have a trip and fall case worthy of pursuit.
- What caused you to fall?
The cause of your fall is what we focus on. There are some common case scenarios that we see when identifying what caused you to fall. Usually there is some tripping hazard that is unsafe with no warning to those people simply walking and not expecting it. It is important to understand that you do not have a case simply because you fell and were injured. There needs to be some dangerous condition that can be specifically identified as the cause of your fall. Many potential clients call us not knowing why or how they tripped and fell. They have no idea what caused them to trip and get injured. If we don’t know why you fell and if we can’t identify some defect or unsafe condition, then you can’t recover any money.
Some typical trip and fall defects that we see include objects on the ground or floor that create raised and uneven surfaces causing a tripping hazard. For example, a case with a steel rod sticking up from the concrete floor in a parking garage causing our client to fall. After she received emergency medical care, she was able to secure photographs of the rod and broken concrete barrier used in the parking space to stop vehicles. The steel rod was raised a few inches from the ground and was dark, blending with the surface. In another case, our client tripped over a broken wooden stake that had been used for snow plowing operations at a parking plaza. Another common occurrence involves electrical wires on walking surfaces in a retail store or other establishment. The electric wires usually blend with the flooring, so they are not easy to see and sometimes not properly secured. We also see cases with hoses or tools left unattended in heavy traffic areas and walking paths of stores or outdoor shopping and dining areas. We see cases with broken steps, uneven walking surfaces, and unsecure carpets and mats, creating tripping hazards for people walking.
- Can we identify who is responsible or to blame for your fall?
To recover on your trip and fall case, there must be someone or some entity that can be identified as legally responsible for the tripping hazard. This involves looking at who had the legal duty or the obligation to keep the place safe where you fell. The owner of the property where you were injured is usually legally responsible. Sometimes there are management companies that may also be held responsible for the safety of the premises. Sometimes a business may be held responsible for a tripping hazard on the property they are leasing to conduct their business. Other times, there may be a tripping hazard on a street or roadway caused by a construction company’s unsafe practices.
Knowing exactly where you fell, we can investigate who is legally responsible for the location where you fell and identify who the parties are that should be held accountable for your accident and injuries.
- Does the reason for your trip and fall lead to someone negligent for your fall?
The reason why you tripped and fell must be the direct result of the wrongdoing of someone. The law only allows you to be compensated if you can prove someone is at fault for your accident. This means that we identify the party or parties who breached their duty of care and failed to do what they should leading to the conditions that caused you to trip and fall.
If you tripped and fell because you were distracted and not paying attention or due to your own carelessness, you can’t recover any money. For example, if you were texting on your cell phone while walking and not paying attention, then you may be at fault. If you tripped because your sneakers were untied, then you can’t recover. You need to prove that someone is at fault for your accident. You need to show that the negligent party knew or should have known about the tripping hazard. Sometimes this is shown by someone’s failure to inspect the property. The length of time the defect was present is a factor to consider. How easy the dangerous condition could be fixed or remedied is also a factor. Some things to consider: where the dangerous condition is located; who knew about it; how the dangerous condition was created; whether there was any warning.
There are legal theories often argued in these trip and fall cases. If the responsible party inspected their property, they would have and should have identified the unsafe tripping hazard and taken the necessary steps to cure the problem and make the property safe for travel. Knowing the heavy foot travel in the area and inviting people to the premises to spend money, the negligent party should have been aware of the tripping hazard and taken reasonable steps to fix and repair it so that it was safe.
In conclusion, as the victim of a trip and fall, the burden is on you to prove that some person, premises owner, or business is responsible for your accident.
- What evidence helps you prove negligence to recover in a trip and fall case?
So far, we have reviewed how a trip and fall case is analyzed to determine if it has merit to move forward seeking compensation for the harm done. There are certain pieces of evidence that improve the chances of having a strong trip and fall case. We typically want to have photographs, video footage, measurements, and or witnesses that support the claim of unsafe conditions, a tripping hazard, negligent conduct, and bad behavior by the responsible party.
Having photographs of the tripping hazard greatly improve the chances of having a good case. It is very difficult to pursue a trip and fall case with no photographs of what caused you to fall. I often use the saying “a picture is worth a thousand words”. There is nothing better than some good photographs showing the dangerous conditions. Having some measurements and maybe a ruler or measuring tape in some photographs is also very helpful.
Sometimes we also have video of the scene of the accident that is also valuable for a case. This is usually secured by our client or someone they know or perhaps through our investigation. As a side note, the at fault party and their insurance company rarely voluntarily share any surveillance video with us. Sometimes there are cameras, and our client assumes there is video footage of the accident. However, the insurance companies claim it doesn’t exist, or it was taped over or the video camera was broken or many other excuses. It is best to secure it ourselves and assume the negligent party and their insurers will never give up any video that may show their wrongful conduct. Assume it will disappear.
Witnesses who either saw you fall or observed the dangerous conditions are also very valuable to your trip and fall case. Having the names, addresses and phone numbers of these witnesses goes a long way to prove your case. Sometimes we get the names of witnesses from police reports if police are on scene. However, it is better to get the names of witnesses and contact information yourself. Sometimes our clients have friends or family members help with this as well as securing photographs as they may be too injured to do it themselves.
Photographs and witnesses are top priorities to strengthen your ability to have a successful result on your trip and fall case.
- Do your injuries rise to the level that is worth pursuing a case?
When you are in a trip and fall accident, the nature and extent of your injuries are important in determining whether your case is worth pursuing. I have previously written about injuries and damages in prior blogs. Your case is looked at from the point of view of the actual injuries you suffered due to the trip and fall. It is not about what could have happened or what harm might have happened. The fact you were almost hurt but caught yourself means you weren’t injured, and you can’t recover for no harm done.
Minor injuries such as an ankle sprain with little medical treatment or a sore back for a few weeks may not justify pursuing a trip and fall case from a financial reward point of view. When we handle a trip and fall case, we are looking at it from the point of view of what type of compensation we can obtain for our client due to the harm caused. How much money can we get you for your injuries suffered in the loss? Our goal is to get you money for what you went through. Legally, that is the recourse available to you. The compensation is with a goal of trying to place you back to where you were before the accident happened.
We often see some bad injuries resulting from trip and fall accidents as usually our clients fall to the ground suddenly and the impact causes severe injuries. We see head injuries with loss of consciousness, facial injuries with fractures and scars, dental injuries, broken bones such as wrists, shoulders, elbows, hips, and leg fractures. Sometimes our clients need surgeries, in patient hospitalization, rehabilitation, physical and occupational therapy, and treatment with specialists for many months after their accident.
Some clients are totally disabled from working their job due to their injuries. We had a client with an arm injury that required surgery, a cast, and many months of physical therapy. She could not perform her job on a computer due to her injuries. We seek compensation for the lost wages due to the accident.
When we evaluate your case, we ask a lot of questions about your injuries, treatment, impact on your life, on your family and work.
- What are the chances of recovering money from the person or entity to blame for your trip and fall accident?
This is usually an investigation into whether there is insurance covering your loss. The persons, entities, or businesses to blame for your accident usually carry insurance to cover a trip and fall accident like yours under a homeowners or general liability policy. The majority of our cases involve receiving the money through a claim with the insurance company, not the person or business.
When multiple parties are involved that may be at fault, it is usually the “blame game” and the insurance companies blaming each other for the accident. Sometimes the parties have contracts and agreements in place as to what insurance company will take the lead and handle your case. In the end, once the negligent parties are identified, their insurance can be notified and get involved with the claims process for you to be compensated for your loss.
Some trip and fall cases may not be worth retaining an attorney to pursue. One example of this involves trip and falls on public ways such as a sidewalk. In some cases, involving defects in public ways involving sidewalks, special rules apply and limit your recovery to $5,000.00. There are also some specific notice requirements for these defects in a public way cases. Having an attorney review the specifics of your case will assist in deciding if your case is worthy of pursuit. Sometimes there is another party that may be held responsible for your trip and fall in addition to a city of town. For example, a construction company may have been performing repair work on a sidewalk and caused a tripping hazard.
If you are injured due to a trip and fall accident, you may have a good case to pursue money for the harm suffered at the hands of someone else’s wrongdoing. Trip and fall cases involve an evaluation of the facts and circumstances surrounding your accident. Having photographs and credible witnesses to support your case against the responsible party strengthens your case. These types of accidents often result in some terrible injuries that require a lot of medical appointments, time missed from work and negatively impact your life and family. You may be entitled to significant compensation for the harm caused by another’s failure to correct a hazardous condition on their property.
At Nadeau Harkavy LLC, we have over 60 years combined experience representing injured people and their families when they have been involved in a trip and fall accident, an auto accident or other type of accident. We have recovered millions of dollars in compensation for our clients over the years to help them get on with their lives after suffering the consequences of a serious accident. We make sure everything is done to protect your interests while you and your family concentrate on getting better. We handle all types of car accident cases including wrongful death and brain injury. We represent drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, as well as other types of car accident cases such as scooter, motorcycle and skateboard cases. We also handle other types of injury cases such as trip and fall, slip and fall, dog bite, construction site, and catastrophic injury accidents. If you or a loved one has been harmed through no fault of your own, call us today for a free consultation about your legal rights at 617-674-7640.