It happened in an instant. You are stunned, surprised and embarrassed. But even worse, you are in pain.
As you pick yourself off the ground after your fall, the last thing on your mind is protecting your legal rights. But now is the crucial time to act.
Simply having fallen on someone else’s property does not entitle you to compensation. Florida law places the burden on you, the injured, to prove (1) why you fell, (2) that it was the property owner’s or property manager’s fault, and (3) that your injuries were caused by the fall.
This requires evidence, and evidence disappears quickly. So if you have the misfortune of falling, keep the following points in mind:
- Look Around
First, try to determine what caused you to fall. Did you trip over something, like a curb, or step, or object? Did you slip on something, like a liquid, food product, or item on the floor?
Next, try to determine where the object or liquid came from. Is there an open box of raisins on the floor next to the pile of raisins? Is water dripping down from a leak in the roof? Is it a rainy day and customers are tracking water into the store?
Finally, try to identify any and all warning signs in the area. For example, is there a “Wet Floor” sign anywhere?
- Take Pictures
Take pictures of what caused you to fall. The more, the better! Puddles dry and messes get cleaned up, and there is no guarantee your attorney will be able to obtain pictures from the property owner or manager. Try and frame your pictures to preserve the scene accurately. Get a close up and a distance shot. Get the area around where you fell. And get any rugs or mats or warning signs in the area.
- Report the Fall
After falling, report the fall immediately. Be completely truthful about what happened and where you are hurt. If you are in a commercial establishment, you will likely be asked to complete an Incident Report. Make sure you fill out the incident report and read it before you sign it. Take a picture of the report before turning it in. The company will most likely refuse you a copy of the report, even if you ask.
- Get Names of Witnesses
Did someone help you up off the ground? Did an employee casually state, “There should’ve been a wet floor sign up!” Get that person’s first and last name and their phone number. Ask them if they saw you fall. What do they think caused you to fall?
- Preserve Evidence
If you fall to the ground, your shoes and clothes will probably be dirty and you will want to change them. That is fine, but don’t wash them. Put them in a plastic bag. Why? If the culprit of your fall is a liquid, there may be remnants on your clothing. Your clothing is now evidence. Also, a key issue in many fall claims is what type of shoes the injured person was wearing at the time of the fall. Once you get home, take your shoes off and put them in a plastic bag.
Also, if you have any visible injuries such a bruising, swelling or cuts, take pictures of those injuries and note the date and time you took the photographs. If someone else takes the photographs for you, note who took the photograph and when it was taken.
- Seek Medical Treatment
If you are having any pain after a fall, go to a medical professional immediately and report any pains you are experiencing. Pay attention to your body. Sometimes pains do not become apparent for several days.
- Call an Attorney
Businesses do not have to preserve video evidence of your fall unless they receive a written request, within a certain amount of time. Contact an attorney immediately so that he or she can send out a “Spoliation Letter,” which instructs the business to preserve the evidence you will need to prove your claim. Even if you are unsure whether you wish to pursue a claim, you should contact an attorney early on to determine what steps are necessary to preserve your legal rights.