Although not everyone agrees on whether climate change is real or not, there is something people living in Bergen County can all agree on: Winter is most definitely real.

Winter’s impact on us ranges from annoyance to extreme hardship, especially when it turns very severe. When it does, even a simple task such as walking out the front door poses a risk.

You may slip and fall. You may trip and fall. Either way, you fall. If you’re lucky, you only bruise your backside and injure your pride a little.

But what if you’re not so lucky? Instead, what if you suffer a serious injury, one that results in medical expenses, time missed from work and disruption of not only your life but the lives of your friends and family as well?

If this has happened to you or a loved one, count yourself among the unlucky folks involved in slip/trip and fall cases in Bergen County.

You slip and fall. You’re hurt. What’s next?

If you are injured because of a slip and fall accident in Bergen County, there are several things you need to know about protecting your rights, preserving your interests and pursuing financial recovery for the costs you are almost sure to incur.

Who is at fault? Does it matter?

We’ll answer the second question first. Yes, determining who’s responsible for your accident matters and it matters very much. Simply put, the party to blame for your accident is the party who the law will hold financially responsible for the damages you suffer.

Answering the question of who is at fault is a little more difficult, however. To do so, an understanding of how personal injury law works is required.

Personal injury law in New Jersey – the basics.

The who, what, where, when and why are all factors to be considered when dealing with any potential personal injury case. Before an attorney can decide whether to take your case, one question needs to be answered: Why did the accident happen?

How did you end up on the ground?

Were you walking or running? Were you in the middle of a crosswalk, in a parking lot, in front of a neighbor’s house or climbing the stairs in a parking structure? How your injury happened will help determine whether another party was liable, who the responsible party will be, and to what extent you can recover damages against that party. The key factor? Was the accident preventable?

If another party owed you a duty of care, failed to carry out that duty and you were injured due to that failure, then grounds for a personal injury lawsuit exist. Say for example that you’re walking from your car in a mall parking lot to the hardware store.

Assume further that it snowed the day before but no snow removal had been performed. The snow froze overnight, the surface became dangerously slippery and down you go.

If the owner knew or should have known of the potentially dangerous condition and there was sufficient time to clear the snow before you got there, your attorney would argue that the mall owner had been negligent.

Whenever a party has a duty of care to others and fails or refuses to carry out that duty, that party may be found to have been negligent and therefore liable for any damages that resulted, either directly or indirectly, from the lack of care.

Who is responsible?

While you might be tempted to think that the answer to this question is obvious, this is not always the case. Let’s use our mall parking lot scenario as an example. Clearly, there was a duty for some party to remove the snow. But which one? The mall owner? Probably. But not definitely.

If the mall owner has the responsibility for all property maintenance issues such as pavement repair, lighting, AC, and snow removal then, yes, your attorney will likely target the owner in your lawsuit.

What if, however, the mall owner employed the services of a property manager to handle the daily operations of the center? In this case, the property manager owed you the duty of care to keep the premises safe.

Let’s examine another example: The mall leasing agreements require each lessee (store) to maintain the premises directly in front of its place of business. If you slipped on ice and fell on the walkway in front of the hardware store, the owner/operator of that store would likely be deemed the liable party.

What injuries did you suffer?

This is important. No matter how negligent the responsible party might be, no cause of action for personal injury exists if the accident did not cause a real injury and you did not incur damages as a result. In short, “no harm, no foul.”

Could you have prevented the injury?

Again, even if negligence is clearly established, your recovery may be reduced or eliminated completely if you contributed to the accident.

Using our mall parking lot example, if snow removal had not yet occurred but the operator of the premises placed signs warning you to take a different approach to the store and you chose to ignore the warnings, any potential award of damages would be reduced by the percentage you were deemed partially responsible for the accident.

If this comparative negligence analysis results in a finding that you were more than 50% to blame for the accident, you will not be awarded damages as a result of your lawsuit.

Time is of the essence.

One final thing to remember if you’ve been injured because of a slip and fall or trip and fall accident: don’t delay. The statute of limitations (time for filing a lawsuit) for commencing legal action for personal injury is, with limited exception, two years from the date of an accident.

If you have any questions about your particular situation, be sure to contact an attorney at Fontanella, Benevento, Galluccio & Smith with experience in slip, trip and fall accidents in Bergen County.

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