Firstly, what do we mean when we talk about a "slip and fall case"? We are of course talking about when a person slips and falls in a public place, or on private or commercial property, that is under the care and control of another. These claims are usually termed "public liability claims", because it is the public liability insurer of the owner or occupier of the property where the accident occurred that usually meets these claims.
Public liability claims are usually strenuously defended by public liability insurers. This is usually because there is so much exposure to such incidents of injury occurring, and subsequent injury claims. Insurers make it difficult for such claims to succeed in an effort to try to deter such claims being pursued. Accordingly, if you have sustained an injury from a slip and fall event at a public place, or on private or commercial property, and you need to bring a claim to recover the loss and damage sustained, then you need to engage the best personal injury compensation lawyer you can to deal with this type of litigation, as it is not an area for an inexperienced compensation lawyer.
When to get a lawyer’s help?
Often people think that when they suffer what appears to be a minor injury in an accident, there is no need to engage a lawyer on their case. They either think that their claim is not one worth pursuing, and they would be embarrassed to seek the advice of a solicitor, or they believe they do not need a lawyer to pursue their minor claim. This is unfortunate as in many cases, what can appear to be minor injuries, can actually result in long term ongoing problems for the person who sustained the injury, giving rise to a significant claim. If the claimant had engaged the advices of an expert personal injury lawyer, they would have been aware of this. But instead, they do not bring their claim at all, or they settle their claim for a minor sum, throwing away significant compensation because they simply did not make the necessary enquiry of a personal injury lawyer.
Often what people consider to be minor injuries, such as whiplash or a strained knee or ankle, can end up causing long term problems for the injury victim, interfering with their capacity to enjoy their usual recreational activities and hobbies, as well as undertaking their domestic and home maintenance tasks and, most importantly, their employment. Because we at The Personal Injury Lawyers see these types of injuries and their affects every day, we are aware of what can happen from what is considered a minor slip and fall incident, but the everyday shopper who slips on a chip and lands heavily on their backside does not.
It is therefore very important that, even if you think your injuries are just minor and you probably don't have a claim worth pursuing, it does not hurt for you to investigate this with a solicitor, experienced in such compensation claims, before making such a dismissal. You may be surprised at the advice you will receive.
Liability can be difficult in slip and fall cases
In circumstances such as a car accident, there is usually someone clearly at fault. On the other hand, in a slip and fall case, liability is not always transparent. Insurers in this type of case will rarely acknowledge the liability of a defendant. As a consequence, if you don’t have a lawyer, your slip and fall case will not go very far.
Having said this, the first job of your lawyer is to get the attention of the defendant and the insurer, by clearly stating the liability of the insured in respect to the slip and fall event, in the initiating document, being the Notice of Claim. This document, which anyone making a public liability claim in Queensland must serve on the at-fault party, sets out the claimant’s case, both in respect to why the claimant considers the defendant is responsible for the injury occurring as well as what the plaintiff is claiming for as a result of the injury.
All personal injury cases come down to proof – that is, proving liability and proving damages or losses. Only the best and most experienced personal injury lawyers can recognise all the different factors affecting these areas of proof, both positively and negatively, in a personal injury claim. Having such a lawyer will mean that you will receive the proper advice you need in how to successfully proceed with your claim and achieve all your compensation entitlements.
You need to prove liability in order for your case to be settled or be successful at trial. This means that you and your lawyer must prove that there has been negligence on the defendant’s part, and that this negligence played a part in causing the injury. In motor vehicle accident cases, this is usually straightforward. However, in a slip and fall case, it can be complex.
An experienced personal injury lawyer will confirm with you how the accident happened. Falls happen very quickly and generally most people often don't know why they fell until further investigations are undertaken. For example, one minute they are on the stairs, and then suddenly they are on the ground, injured. Slip and fall accidents aren't restricted to stairs either. They can be caused by uneven ground, unstable ground or even a variant surface. If you suffer a slip and fall injury, then it is important that you take note of as much as possible as to what caused you to fall. Some of the questions that you need to consider in making your investigations are as follows, and these are the types of queries your solicitor will be asking of you when you enquire about making a claim for a slip and fall injury:
- How did you fall down the stairs?
- Which foot missed the stairs?
- What footwear were you wearing?
- Were you holding onto the handrail?
- Were you carrying anything?
- If you were carrying something, which hand were you holding it in?
- Were you on the phone?
- Did your foot slip or trip?
- Were the stairs exposed to the elements, internal or under cover?
- Was it raining at the time, or had it been raining earlier?
- Where were you looking whilst going down the stairs?
- Was there anything on the stairs - liquid, debris etc?
- Was there a defect in the stairs?
- Were the stairs excessively slippery or unstable?
- Was there any fall protection on the stairs (eg. anti-slip strips)?
All of these facts, along with others depending on the circumstances of the slip and fall event causing the injury, are critical facts your lawyer, the insurance company's lawyer, the insurer and the court will want to know and consider carefully before any compensation is offered or any award of damages is made.
All of these queries just address the physics of how you fell. Once all the facts surrounding why you fell are identified, then your lawyer has to assess how the defendant may be held accountable for your fall on those facts. For example, lets consider some possible reasons that you may fall whilst traversing stairs:
- You missed a step;
- You slipped on something on the stairs;
- You tripped over your own coat you were carrying;
- You reached for something, perhaps a handrail, but lost your balance;
- The height of each step varies, which unknowingly destabilised you as you went down the stairs, causing you to lose balance and fall.
Not all of these circumstances are the defendant’s fault. The owner or occupier of the premises is not legally responsible if you trip on your own clothing and fall down, or you fail to take due care when descending a stairway that is safely constructed and hazard free. However, the builder, owner or occupier of the premises where you fell on the stairway in most circumstances is responsible for a staircase that is poorly constructed, such as in the case where the steps are all at varying heights, causing you to destabilise and fall.
Your lawyer will examine the scene of your accident, discuss the possibilities with you, and help you figure out why and how you fell. Then he or she will review the applicable laws and building standards to determine if the condition of the premises was in violation. In some cases, where the unsafe state of the stairway is not overt, an expert witness in the field of safe stairway construction may be required to give evidence of the unsafe nature of the stairway upon which you fell, and the negligence of the owner or occupier involved.
Slip and fall accidents often involve multiple defendants
The issue of unsafe stairway construction gives rise to the other particular nature of slip and fall claims. It is usually the case that such claims involve not just occupiers and owners of the premises where the slip and fall happened, but they often tend to involve multiple defendants all having certain responsibility for the area where the fall occurred. Using the slip and fall on the stairs example mentioned above, if the fall was due to the unsafe construction of the stairway, then this may require that the builder or architect of the stairway is also required to be brought into the claim as a possible defendant. This is why slip and fall claims are required to be handled by the best and most experienced personal injury lawyers, as they can involve potential defendants that, if missed, can mean the difference between a successful outcome to your case, and complete failure.
Proving damages is not simply saying that you broke your leg and couldn’t work for months. You and your lawyer will need to properly prove this through medical evidence of your injury, and documentary evidence of your employment and your lost earnings. Similarly, if you are claiming for out of pocket expenses such as treatment costs, medical aids or pharmaceuticals, again, documentation evidencing these expenses will be required (for example invoices and receipts for treatment or medication, domestic assistance, or schedules of attendances and payments from your pharmacist, physiotherapist and GP, etc). It is therefore important for your case that you try to obtain as much evidence as possible of your out of pocket expenses by asking for and keeping receipts for any payments you make related to your accident injuries.
Evidence of your pain and suffering and the future impact of your injuries on your everyday living, recreational, social, domestic and employment activities has to come from yourself. Your lawyer will run through this with you. It may also be advisable for someone close to you to provide evidence of what they have witnessed as to the impact of your fall injuries on you, such as a partner, relative or close friend. The reporting of your doctors and medical experts as to the likely long term impact your injuries will have on your activities will also be taken into account when considering what compensation and damages you should receive for your injuries.
As you can see from the discussions above, pursuing a personal injury claim in a slip and fall case requires the expertise of an experienced personal injury lawyer. With such cases usually meeting strenuous defences, multiple defendants and complex arguments over liability, causation and monetary damages, they are claims that require legal representation.
Cost of representation
There is obviously a cost involved in hiring a lawyer for your case. However, The Personal Injury Lawyers work on a No Win, No Fee basis. This means that they only get paid if you achieve compensation for your claim. There are no up front costs and no payments are required during your claim. Payment is only required at the conclusion of your claim, when you receive your compensation or damages payment. The "No Win No Fee" service really is a case of having "nothing to lose" in contacting us to see if you have a claim worth pursuing. For expert advice on your personal injury claim, contact Queensland's expert no win no fee lawyers - The Personal Injury Lawyers on 1300 782 202.