It happens every day - unsuspecting customers have an accident, and are injured, while patronizing a business. When a business opens its doors to the public, it then owes a duty to customers (also called "invitees") to provide a safe experience. This means that the business must keep its facilities in good repair, the floors clear of debris and hazards, merchandise stacked properly, and carts and equipment in safe condition, with employees properly trained to maintain safety as well.
However, each day customers are injured at businesses, often due to the failure of the business to uphold its duty of safety to the public. This failure is referred to as "negligence," and this area of the law is commonly referred to as "premises liability."
The most common accident which occurs at retail stores is that a customer will slip and fall on, or trip over, something on the floor. This could be any number of things, but most common are:
• leaked or spilled liquid
• merchandise or stray items such as grapes, which land on the floor
• a box, cart or item left in the aisle
• a mat or carpet
A business has a duty to inspect the sales floor at regular intervals and clear away any hazards, or post a clear warning of the hazard. This is sometimes called a "floor sweep." These sweeps ideally should be conducted at least hourly, or more if a store is busy with customers. A business will generally keep a record of these sweeps, either as a paper or electronic log.
Often a specific employee is dedicated to performing this job during his or her shift. If an accident occurs, a business must prove that they were conducting regular floor sweeps to defend against a claim. Gathering this information from a business is an important job for your attorney, to support your accident claim.
So you are at the store, minding your own business, and next thing you know you wind up on the floor. You are shaken, and maybe embarrassed. What should you do?
The most important thing you can do right away is get photos! If you slipped on a liquid, look for the source. Is there an open or broken container nearby? A drip from the ceiling? A leaky pipe, water tracked in from outside or out of a restroom? Are you near a water fountain? Take photos of the liquid, and anything that relates to the fall.
Is there any warning of the hazard, such as a cone or a WET FLOOR sign? If not, it's very helpful to take photos of the area showing that the store posted no warning.
If you fell because of an object, such as a grape, box or piece of equipment, take photos of the area including the object. Look around. Is there a caution sign or cone? Is anyone working nearby? (For example, if it's a fallen grape, is anyone stocking the grapes or were they recently stocked?) If you tripped over a mat, take a photo of it in its rumpled condition. Are there surveillance cameras? If so, this is an important fact to report right away to your attorney.
An important note about surveillance: Many stores today have surveillance cameras. Footage from those cameras is only saved for a short period of time, if at all. If you see surveillance cameras, let your attorney know right away so he can immediately request the footage. A store has a duty to preserve the footage, but only if requested by your lawyer.
Notify an employee right away that you fell. Pay attention to anything that the employee says, especially if he or she admits they knew of the hazard or knows how it got there. Get the name of anyone who has information about the hazard, as well as any helpful witnesses.
The store manager may ask you to fill out an accident report, which creates a record of the incident. At that time, report any injuries or suspected injuries. Even if you feel OK at the scene keep in mind that injuries do not always show up right away.
You may get called by an adjuster for the store's insurance company. It is their job to investigate the claim and find ways to defend the store against it. In other words, find a basis to deny the claim. They will also look for ways to place some of the fault on you, the injured party. So it's important that you consult an attorney before giving any statement to an insurance company.
What? I fell at the store and they are going to try to blame it on me? It is the adjuster's duty to pay as little as possible on a claim, so he or she will look for ways to shift blame to the injured party. Some examples of ways to shift blame to the customer are:
• Was the customer looking where he/she was going?
• Were they running or in a hurry?
• Was there a warning sign or cone?
• Were they wearing slippery shoes, such as flip flops or crocs?
• Did they trip over their own feet, or something that was not the store's fault?
• Were they in an area open to customers?
• Was the condition "open and obvious"? - this is a dangerous situation that a reasonable person would be expected to see and understand is dangerous. An example would be - a spill of a dark colored liquid that is so large it spans an entire aisle of the store.
An adjuster might not come out and ask these questions directly, but this is the kind of information he or she will be looking for in order to prepare a defense of the claim. They will ask questions, look at the surveillance video, interview witnesses and read through your medical records to find the information they need. So remember this, when you make statements to anyone!
Get Medical Attention
You might feel OK at the scene but it's not unusual for injuries to arise later, when the stress of the accident has worn off. If you are hurt, do not hesitate to see a doctor. Let your attorney know right away about any medical attention you receive.
Call An Attorney
Premises liability is a tricky area of the law. Typically a business and its insurance company will look for any defense to not pay your injury claim. This is where an experienced attorney can fight for you so you get the compensation you deserve. Be sure to call the Sellers Law Office for prompt help with your slip and fall case!