Slip and Fall Cases in Georgia

WHAT IS A "SLIP AND FALL"?

"Slip and fall" or "trip and fall" is a term for an injury which occurs when someone slips, trips or falls as a result of a dangerous or hazardous condition on another's property. It includes falls as a result of water, snow and ice, as well as abrupt changes in flooring, dim  lighting, or hidden hazards, such as holes or weak places in the ground or flooring.a

If you are on someone else's property and injure yourself as a result of a dangerous condition on the property, the owner of the property or the business owner may be liable for your injuries.

DANGEROUS OR HAZARDOUS CONDITIONS

Landowners are responsible for injuries that occur as a result of a dangerous or hazardous conditions on their property, if they knew about, or should have known about the condition. Some hazrds are obvious, like broken stairs; others may be hidden, lik a hole that grass, leaves or shrubs obscure.  Some hazards are not apparent, such as a floor which appears normal, but is slippery. Some are permanent, like cracked concrete which presents a raised or lowered edge.  Others are temporary, like something spilled in a grocery store aisle.

In general, an owner will be presumed to have knowledge of a dangerous or hazardous condition if it is permanent in nature, since the owner knew, or should have known, about the condition before the incident occurs.

In the case of temporary conditions, the amount of time that the condition has existed determines the owner's responsibility.

If the spill occurred immediately prior to  the fall, the owner may not be legally responsible, because he or she may not have had an opportunity to know about the problem.   On the other hand, if the spill was present for some time before the fall, or happens in an area subject to such spills, or is a recurring event, the owner may be liable, even if he or she did not actually know about the spill prior to the fall.

I'VE FALLEN!  WHAT NOW?

You should see your primary care physician or another medical doctor, since your injuries may be more severe than you think. You may also want to consult with an attorney to determine if you have a claim against the landowner.

Floor or ground conditions may change or be changed.  The owner has no obligation to preserve the conditions.  You need to preserve or record the condition that caused your injury.  Photograph or videotape the site as soon as possible.  In addition, every state has a "statute of limitations" which limits the time you have to act; in Georgia, the statute of limitations for this type of claim is generally two years, but can be as short as one year in certain situations. Georgia also requires you to give notice to certain types of landowners, such as municipalities, within 180 days of the injury.  Other states may have shorter periods of time to give notice.   If you do not give the required notice, or sometimes file a claim or lawsuit within the time set by law of the state in which the injury occurred, you lose your ability to recover from the landowner. If your injuries turn out to be more severe than they first appear, you'd be in trouble.

If you have a valid claim against the landowner for your injuries, delay can prevent you from having any claim. You should act quickly to determine your options.

  • Inspect the area where you fell.
  • What caused you to fall?
  • Did anyone see you fall?
  • Write down the names, addresses and phone numbers of anyone around the site where the incident occurred – both those who saw you fall, and others who were there after the incident -- you may need them as witnesses on your behalf if the landowner disputes your claim. Even if someone did not see you fall, he or she could, if necessary, describe your pain and the conditions of the floor, lighting, etc.
  • If the incident occurred in a store or place of business, speak with the manager or supervisor on duty. Have them make a record of the incident, and get a copy of anything prepared by the business.
  • If anyone (especially an employee, supervisor or manager) makes a comment suggesting that this has occurred before, or that they were aware of the condition before your fall, make a mental note. If possible, get the name of the person who make the comment. As soon as you are out of the store, write down the name and what exactly the person said, and who else heard him make the statement.
  • Have someone take photographs of the area as soon as possible, so a record is made. Buying a tiny throwaway camera for $5 to $10 may be a good investment.  Permanent conditions have a way of changing if someone thinks that you might file a claim for your injuries.
  • Keep any shoes that you were wearing at the time.

WHAT SHOULD I NOT DO?

Don't sign any statements regarding the incident.  If the statement turns out to be incorrect or incomplete, you may be bound by these statements.  If a statement is taken, get a copy for yourself. Be careful also about what you say. Taking any responsibility for the fall may hurt your claim.  Saying things like "these shoes are really slippery" or "Oh, I am constantly falling" can get you in trouble later on.

It is likely that a claims adjuster may call you to take a statement over the phone. Before giving a statement to an adjuster, you should probably speak with an attorney to discuss your rights. A claims adjuster may attempt to get you to admit at least some responsibility for the fall.  He or she may also encourage you to minimize the extent of your pain or injuries or your medical condition before you have seen a doctor.  An adjustor may also try to settle your claim and secure a release before you find out your medical condition.

WHAT DO I NEED TO PROVE MY CASE?

While every case is different, you will need (at a minimum) the following:

  • photos of the scene, ideally photos depicting the condition;
  • as many witnesses to the incident, or the dangerous condition, as you can find, including yourself;
  • the incident report, if it occurred in a business establishment;
  • proof of your injuries and damages; and
  • reports of prior incidents. if any.

Some cases also require the hiring of an expert witness,  who can evaluate the condition and testify as to what caused you to fall, based on his/her technical education, training or experience.

DO I NEED AN ATTORNEY?

Some slip and fall cases can be handled on your own, but most require a lawyer to represent you.  Thes type of cases can be difficult to win in court.  Attorneys with experience handling slip and fall cases can make an assessment of your case, deal with the landowner or the insurance company, can find an expert witness, if needed, and prepare your case for settlement and trial.   Most slip and fall cases are handled as contingency fee cases, which means that the attorney is paid at the conclusion of the case, and only if you recover.

DAMAGES IN A SLIP AND FALL CASE

Depending on the state law applible to your case, the following damages may be availiable.

  • medical bills and expenses incurred as a result of the incident
  • lost income for time from work to recover
  • the fair value of any clothing damaged in the incident
  • compensation for pain and suffering as a result of the incident and
  • general damages

In certain particularly egregious cases, punitive damages may be available, although this would be a very unusual case.

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