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Legal Issues

What Do You Do After a Slip and Fall? - August 1, 2019

You’re a restaurant owner and enjoy the beautiful hardwood floors in your restaurant. But, one day, a customer enters your restaurant, slips, falls, and breaks her leg. What do you do? Who do you call? Should you be worried about a lawsuit?

Every commercial property owner asks these questions after an accident on their property.  The obvious first step is to call 911 and make sure that your customer gets the help she needs.  And, if you’re a business owner, you should be prepared for litigation.  Whether you own a restaurant, hotel, office building, or retail store, there are a few quick things you can do to make sure that you can present a strong defense if an injured party brings a personal injury lawsuit.

1. Take Photographs

When someone slips or falls on your property, take pictures of where they fell as soon as possible.  While slip and fall cases are hard for plaintiffs to prove, one of the reasons why slip and fall cases do not get resolved is because there is a factual dispute about the condition of the area where the injured party fell. 

To avoid this factual dispute, train your employees to take pictures of the area where the fall occurred as soon as possible, especially if there are wet floor signs displayed, and, if possible, the shoes that injured party was wearing. 

In a recent a slip and fall case, a restaurant employee testified that he went to the spot where plaintiff fell as soon as she moved, touched it with his hands and feet, and did not feel anything wet on which plaintiff could have fallen. While the testimony was compelling, photographs of the area would have helped resolve the case sooner.  Keep a company-owned camera on your property, make sure it’s charged, train your employees to use it, and then preserve the photographs electronically.

2. Fill Out an Incident Form and Collect Witness Statements

Who said what?  When did they say it?  Were they mad?  Our memories are the best right after an incident occurs.  Incident and witness statement forms are some of the most useful tools in litigation because they generally illustrate what happened better than any other evidence.  Create an incident form and a witness statement form that your employees can easily access after an incident occurs.  The incident form should include the following:

  • The name, address, email address, and telephone number of the injured party;
  • The age and gender of the injured party;
  • The weather conditions outside at the time of the fall, including the temperature outside, and whether and what type of precipitation was outside;
  • A detailed description of what the injured party observed just before the fall; and
  • A signature line for the injured party to sign.

When asking for the details from the injured party, train your employees to ask the following questions:

  • Just before the fall, did you see anything on the floor?
  • Did you have any difficulty walking on any parts of the property?
  • Have you worn these shoes before?

Justifiably, it may be difficult to get the injured party to fill out the form.  If the injured party is with someone else, ask them to fill it out.  Remember, the more details you can obtain, the better.

The witness statement form should include the following:

  • The name, address, email address, and telephone number of the witness;
  • The age and gender of the witness;
  • The date, time, and location of the fall;
  • The weather conditions outside at the time of the fall, including the temperature outside, and whether and what type of precipitation was outside;
  • A detailed description of what the witness observed; and
  • A signature line for the witness to sign.

After completing the incident form and witness form, train your employees to attach a list of all the employees who were working at the time of the fall so that your lawyers can speak with them about what they observed around that time.  The attorney representing the injured party will request that list as well. 

Additionally, if available, attach a drawing of the path that the injured party took to the spot where they fell. If your property is a restaurant, you should be able to use the floor plan of the restaurant to do this. Make sure all of the documents are stored centrally and electronically so that they are easily accessible if and when there is litigation.

3. Preserve Surveillance Video

To preserve hard drive space, surveillance camera systems are set to automatically erase after a certain period of time, this need to preserve space conflicts with the need to preserve video when it comes to personal injury lawsuits. Often, surveillance camera footage of the incident has been erased by the time a lawsuit is filed, taking away a great source of information about the incident.

Train your employees to immediately save the data or footage from the surveillance cameras at the time of the incident.  Even if the cameras do not record the actual fall, surveillance camera footage can give us information about the general circumstances of the fall.

Bottom Line

No matter how many precautions a business takes, slip and falls occur.  By creating a few easy policies and training employees, a business can better defend itself in litigation and may even help the business avoid liability altogether. 

For more information about how to implement the above policies and more, contact Abhay M. Nadipuram.

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