Trip and fall accidents happen every day. Sometimes nobody gets seriously injured. Other times the circumstances can snowball, wreaking havoc on the lives of the victims.
It’s important that you know that you have rights any time you are injured on somebody else’s property. Georgia law is very clear that property owners have a duty to keep their property free from hidden hazards. If the property owner fails to do his duty, he or she may be negligent. When injuries do occur because of negligence, it is the property owner’s duty to compensate the injured party unless that individual is somehow responsible. All of this is especially true when the property is one to which the public is invited, like a store or an office.
In this article, we’ll give you answers to some of the questions you may have about negligence claims relating to trip and slip and fall cases, tell you how to prove injuries were caused by negligence, and the value of such a case in a Georgia courtroom.
Here’s an example of what can happen in a trip and fall case:
On one January day a few years back, a small-town barber was about to retrieve his wife from her oncologist’s office where she was receiving chemotherapy for breast cancer. As he approached the front door, he failed to notice the 1 ¾ inch step-up from the walkway to the main entry level of the office. He caught his toe on that step and fell, his full weight 275 pounds impacting his left shoulder and his right wrist. Both the wrist and the shoulder were shattered.
The barber was transported two blocks to the hospital by ambulance and, after waiting agonizing hours in the emergency room, X-rays were finally taken of both arms. He was evaluated by an orthopedist who determined that the man’s right wrist required surgery but the shattered ball joint of his upper arm, the left humeral head, would have to heal with the help of a lower-arm cast meant to keep the bone fragments in place by way of gravity. Because the barber had no medical insurance, the orthopedic surgeon stabilized the shoulder with a sling, sent him home, and told the man to return for surgery the next morning.
As you might imagine, it was a long night for the man and his wife who was herself, in the throes of misery brought about by the powerful chemotherapy drugs she’d been given that day. The following morning, the man underwent surgery to pin his wrist back together and both arms were casted before he was sent home to heal.
First of all, it’s important that you document everything. In this case, the most important piece of evidence apart from the medical records is the picture the wife took of the step that tripped her husband. It identified the hazardous, unmarked step for what it was.
According to the guidelines published by the Americans with Disabilities Act, (ADA,) the vertical change in the level of the grade was higher than legally allowed and, therefore, likely to cause tripping accidents like the one that befell our barber and must be remedied.
If the property owner is aware of a trip risk, he should take steps to warn others by placing a warning sign, or painting the edge of step-up in bright yellow for caution until such time as he is able to fix the problem. There was no visual warning of this level change.
The second most useful thing you can do is to talk to others. In this case, the wife listened carefully to the office staff after the accident happened. Several said that this kind of accident had happened previously. Taking the names and phone numbers of witnesses along with a summary of what they say is important since your lawyer will want to take official statements later. In this case, the fact that others had tripped means that the property owner was aware of the hazard and had done nothing to remedy the problem.
Medical records are critical.
These document the circumstances around the accident and the consequences of the fall. Again, comments made by ambulance personnel and hospital staff are helpful. When you make notes, get dates and times as well as names
Finally, the legal particulars will be important. In this case the ADA has published and disseminated rules regarding trip hazards such as the one in this case. The ADA is the law of the land where construction is concerned. This act was created to protect the access of people with handicaps, but you need not be handicapped to enjoy the law’s positive effects.
This walkway was built before the ADA was enacted however the building in question was not exempted from the purpose of the act, which is to provide access to public buildings by all citizens including those with handicaps. The ADA requires alterations to be made to correct barriers to the access of public places when such alterations do not create a hardship and are “readily achievable” by the building’s owner. The owner of this property was almost certainly negligent in not making his entryway compliant with the law.
When you have been injured by the negligence of others, all your injuries should be taken into account. In our case there were lots of medical bills. Producing them is easy. What isn’t so easy is proving the other damages.
Valuing the lost wages is a matter of finding an average day’s income for this barber and then multiplying it by the number of days he was unable to work. How, though, can we put a price on the humiliation this poor man suffered because he could not pay the medical bills or put food on the table? What about the extra pain and suffering the wife had to endure beyond of her own overwhelming medical problems? All of these painful facts should play a part in the determination of the settlement amount.
The credit card statements in this case could have made it very easy to demonstrate actual monetary damages. Unfortunately, the lawyer who represented this couple failed to take into account any damages beyond the medical costs and, because they didn’t know any better, the couple didn’t object.
Finally, it is important to note that our barber’s shoulder healed, but it is certainly not “as good as new.” He lost much mobility in his injured shoulder. He has a limited range of motion amounting to about half of what he had before the fall. When even some of the shoulder’s flexibility is taken away, a lifetime can be complicated. The barber still lives with pain and will continue to do so as arthritis has already set in there. All of that has value.
The cost of the bankruptcy might also come into play here since it was a direct result of the consequences of the fall.
In short, all the impacts you’ve felt as a result of the injury can be considered. Ultimately the lawyers for the parties will usually consult and agree on a number. If the lawyers cannot agree and the matter goes to trial, the judge and the jury will be the final determinants as to the value of the case.
Not all lawyers are capable of handling a personal injury case. Only a lawyer who specializes in personal injury thoroughly understands the implications of premises liability. Knowing a lawyer personally or socially doesn’t equip him to handle your personal injury case.
You may not know all of your legal rights, so it is doubly important that your lawyer does. While we are delighted to hear about cases where an accident victim had their medical costs covered, many people are not “made whole” if the property owner fails to fully compensate them for their pain and suffering, lost pay and future anticipated medical expenses. “Made whole,” is always our goal.
At the Millar Law Firm we carefully evaluate each case that comes to us. We do this at absolutely no charge to the client because it’s important that you know whether or not your case has a chance of prevailing in a court of law. We also do this because you deserve to know your rights from the beginning. How you proceed from there will be entirely up to you.
Before you walk away from the rights and protections guaranteed you by the State of Georgia and the United States of America, be sure you know what is possible. The law exists to make sure you are protected from the negligence of others. Everybody is better off when rules are followed and negligence receives the discipline it deserves.