Life comes at you fast. Too fast at times. Work, play, family and social media all combine to force us to multi-task daily (whether we like it or not). Unfortunately, today’s pace of life can distract us from even the simplest tasks.
Even something as mundane as walking down the street can become more perilous. And accidents happen. In fact, slip and fall accidents happen all the time. Most victims only injure their pride. Others, however, suffer serious injury. And when they do, other negative things usually follow.
An injury suffered as a result of a slip and fall accident can lead to medical expenses, time lost from work, inability to drive or perhaps even walk and interference with the ability to carry out daily tasks, not to mention the impact of these factors on the victim’s mental and emotional well-being. Imagine how much worse you would feel if you are unable to recover damages from a slip and fall accident that wasn’t your fault.
If you are injured as a result of a slip and fall (or trip and fall) accident, the following guide is designed to help you protect your interests, preserve your rights and give you the best chance of recovering lost wages, reimbursement of medical expenses and other costs you may incur.
Personal injury and recovery of damages
A person injured by the action of another or the failure of another to act in a reasonably expected manner may have a cause of action to pursue compensation for any financial losses incurred as a result of the injury suffered. Such recovery is available if the following elements are proven:
1. One party has a duty of care to an individual, group of individuals or the public at large. The following scenarios are examples of this concept:
- A commercial property owner has a duty to provide a safe environment to those who could reasonably be expected to come on to the property (customers, vendors, passersby).
- Under New Jersey law, a commercial property owner has the duty to remove snow and ice from sidewalks adjacent to its property within a reasonable time after a snowfall.
2. The party failed to exercise the required standard of care.
- The law refers to such failure as “negligence”. If by failing to take certain steps a property owner causes an accident to another that could have been avoided, the owner is then potentially liable for any injury suffered as a result of that accident.
- Liability will be imposed if the duty involved taking affirmative action to prevent against a dangerous condition or inaction so as not to create a hazard.
3. The failure to exercise the duty of care directly or indirectly causes an accident.
- In other words, were it not for the negligence of one of the parties, the other would not have experienced an accident.
- The failure to exercise the standard of care does not need to be the sole cause of the accident, only a factor significant enough that the accident would not have occurred otherwise.
- A simple example: A grocery store customer drops a jar of pickles onto the floor. The store owner is certainly not responsible for that occurrence. However, if the store owner was aware that a “cleanup in aisle 5” was necessary and did not ensure it was carried out quickly, the store would probably be held liable for any injuries suffered as a result of a subsequent slip and fall accident.
4. The accident is the direct cause of an injury or aggravates a pre-existing condition.
- The injury itself or an aggravation of a prior condition must be directly attributable to the accident.
5. The injury is serious.
- It will take more than just bruised pride to support a claim for damages. In fact, in the absence of significant injury, you will have no grounds for a lawsuit. Recovery of damages requires that real damages actually exist.
6. You are not more than 50% responsible for the accident if the evidence establishes you are, in part, to blame.
- If you are injured in an accident and the jury finds that you were partially at fault, it will review all the evidence to determine the extent to which you were comparatively negligent.
- If that review proves that your action or inaction was at least 50% of the reason for the accident, you will recover no damages.
How to pursue legal recourse for a slip and fall injury in Bergen County
1. Not surprisingly, we recommend you seek competent legal advice for your slip and fall case.
- While you may be tempted to simply rely on the efforts of the property owner’s insurance company, you’ll soon realize that the insurer’s priorities do not include acting in your best interests. In fact, the opposite is more likely to be true.
- Many people operate under the misconception that insurance companies are in the business of insuring against loss and providing financial recovery in the event a loss does indeed occur. While that may be technically correct, it is not completely accurate.
- Insurance companies are actually in the business of risk management and cost control. Automatically compensating you for what your injury is worth does not necessarily manage risk and certainly does not control costs.
- Only when you hire an attorney can you rest assured that your interests (and only your interests) are being fully represented.
2. Time is of the essence.
- Like most states, New Jersey imposes a statute of limitations on commencing legal action for personal injury. In our state, that limitation period is two years.
- Failure to start your lawsuit within two years after the date of accident is, with a few exceptions, fatal to your efforts to recover for damages.
- You should, therefore, seek competent legal advice as soon as you discover you suffered serious injury as a result of a slip and fall injury.
3. Competence matters.
- Not just any personal injury lawyer will do, however. These cases are complex because they usually involve a great deal of evidence. In addition, discovery is crucial.
- Requests for documents and conducting the deposition of witnesses are frequently lengthy processes. This is especially true if the insurer employs delay tactics in an effort to wear you down and ultimately surrender.
- Trial experience is important. Although most personal injury cases are, as the saying goes, “settled out of court”, many are not. An attorney who is only comfortable in engaging in settlement negotiations will be of limited use to you if those negotiations fail.
- An insurance company may actually offer more favorable settlement terms when dealing with a successful personal injury litigator. Losing at trial is likely to be very expensive for the insurance company, an outcome which does not constitute cost control by any measure.