If you have been injured in a slip and fall accident, you might be wondering whether you need legal representation in order to recover damages from the at-fault party. Technically speaking, you can file a slip and fall claim by yourself, as your right to self-representation is guaranteed by the US Constitution.
With that said, representing yourself in a slip and fall claim is not prudent, as recovering damages from the insurance company can be an uphill battle – even under the best of circumstances. Establishing fault in slip and fall cases can be very difficult and negotiating a settlement with the insurance company can be even more of a challenge.
What makes slip and fall cases different from other personal injury cases? Why should you hire an experienced Michigan slip and fall lawyer to handle your claim? Let us take a look.
Statistics and Facts About Slip and Fall Accidents
Every year, millions of people in the country are injured in slip, trip, and fall accidents. Data from the CDC shows that one out of every five slip and fall accidents results in serious injuries like broken bones (particularly hip fractures) and traumatic brain injuries. A vast majority of people who are injured in slip and fall accidents happen to be elderly people – typically over the age of 65.
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Common Causes of Slip and Fall Accidents
- Wet and slippery surfaces
- Uneven surfaces
- Broken, cracked, or pothole-filled surfaces
- Cluttered surfaces
- Loose floorboards
- Missing handrails
- Broken stairways
- Poor lighting
Common Injuries That Might Result from a Slip and Fall Accident
The most common types of slip and fall injuries you might suffer that is covered by Ranchod law in an accident include:
- Sprained wrists and ankles
- Torn ligaments (particularly in the knees)
- Broken fingers and toes
- Wrist and ankle fractures
- Hip fractures (particularly common in older people)
- Neck, back, and spinal cord injuries
- Traumatic brain injuries
What Does Michigan Law Say About Slip and Fall Accidents?
Slip, trip, and fall accidents are covered under a legal theory called premises liability, which states that a person who owns or controls a property has a duty to maintain the property in a reasonably safe condition. If they fail to do so and someone is injured as a result, they can be held responsible for all the tangible and intangible losses resulting from the accident.
Under the law, the person who owns or controls the property owes a duty of care to two categories of people – invitees and licensees.
- Invitees are people who visit the property for the purpose of doing business with the property owner or for any other purpose that would have benefited the property owner. Common examples of invitees include business partners, business associates, vendors, and customers.
- Licensees are people who visit the property for non-commercial purposes. Common examples of licensees include friends, guests, and other people who might visit the property for social reasons.
Under the doctrine of premises liability, property owners owe a duty of care towards invitees as well as licensees. They do not owe any duty of care towards trespassers who enter the property without the owner’s knowledge or consent.
Elements to Be Proved in a Michigan Slip and Fall Claim
In order to establish the property owner’s negligence and recover compensatory damage, you need to prove the following elements.
- The property owner was aware of the defective or dangerous condition on the property. Alternatively, you can also make the argument that the dangerous condition in question was so obvious or that it existed for such a long period of time that the owner should have known about it.
- After coming to know about the dangerous condition, the property owner had sufficient time to fix it or at the very least warn people about it.
- The property owner failed to take any steps to repair the defective condition or to warn people about it.
- The accident occurred directly or primarily as a result of the condition.
- You suffered an injury as a result of the accident.
- At the time of the accident, you were on the property with the explicit or implied permission of the property owner.
It should be noted that the owner of the property might not always be the at-fault party in a slip and fall case. If the owner has rented out the property to a third party, the third-party can be held liable – depending on the circumstances.
For instance, if you slip and fall in a retail store in a shopping mall, the owner of the store – not the person who owns the shopping mall – can be held liable, as they are the one who is responsible for maintaining their retail store in a reasonably safe condition.
Similarly, if the owner of a property hires a property management company or a contractor to maintain their property, it’s the management company or the contractor that can be held liable in the event of an accident – not the property owner.
Common Defenses Used by Property Owners in Slip and Fall Cases
#1. The Open and Obvious Defense
This is by far the most common defense used by property owners in slip and fall injury cases. The at-fault property owner might make the argument that the dangerous condition in question was so open and so obvious that you should have noticed it and avoided it.
The open and obvious defense is generally used in slip and fall accidents that are caused by snow and ice. The argument made in these cases is that Michigan is known for its brutally cold winters. The hazards posed by snow and ice should be obvious to everyone and no property owner can be held responsible if someone slips and falls on a wet and slippery sidewalk or parking lot.
However, the aforementioned defense cannot be used against all claims resulting from snow and ice-related slip and fall accidents. Recently, in the Estate of Brenda Bowman and Derick Bowman v. Larry Walker and Rodney Lauderdale, the Michigan Court of Appeals ruled that the open and obvious defense cannot be used in cases where a tenant cannot leave their apartment safely (to go to work and for other essential purposes) due to the buildup of snow and ice on the property.
The court pointed out that even though the defective condition in question – the accumulation of snow and ice – might be open and obvious, tenants might not be able to avoid the defective condition if it is right in their way. In a scenario of this kind, the property owner has a duty to clean up the place as often as necessary to make it reasonably safe for their tenants – as well as other third parties who might visit the property under the explicit or implied permission of the owner.
#2. Inadequate Time to Fix the Defect
This is yet another defense used in slip, trip, and fall claims resulting from snow and ice-related accidents. The at-fault property owner might make the argument that they knew about the defective condition, but did not have adequate time to fix it, and therefore cannot be held liable for the accident.
#3. The Trespassing Defense
Depending on the circumstances, the property owner might make the argument that you did not have the right to be or you were not expected to be where you were at the time of the accident. For instance, if the spot where the accident occurred was marked ‘employees only’, the owner can make the argument that they cannot be held responsible for your injuries since you had no business being there in the first place.
#4. The Comparative Negligence Defense
If you were texting, emailing, talking on the phone, or were distracted in any other way at the time of the accident, the property owner might make the argument that if you had not been distracted, you would have noticed the defective condition and avoided it. They might also make the argument that since your own negligence played a major role in the accident, you do not have the right to recover damages under Michigan’s comparative negligence doctrine.
Under the doctrine, if it is proven that your own negligence contributed to a certain extent to the accident, your compensation will be reduced proportionately. For example, if you are found to be 25% at fault for the accident, your compensation will be reduced by 25%.
Furthermore, if you are found to be at 50% at fault, you might lose your right to recover non-economic damages (which might include pain and suffering compensation, emotional trauma, and loss of quality of life). You can only recover economic damages – in proportion to the property owner’s degree of fault.
Avoid Making a Statement to the Insurance Adjuster after a Slip and Fall Accident
Following the accident, the claims adjuster from the at-fault property owner’s insurance company might call you and ask you about the accident. If and when they do, you should not say anything to them.
The only goal of the adjuster is to get you to say something that can be used to reject your claim altogether or to reduce your settlement to the extent possible. So, if the adjuster calls you, get their name and contact number and tell them that your slip and fall lawyer will contact them to discuss the specifics of the case.
How a Dedicated Michigan Slip and Fall Attorney Can Help You
#1. Investigating Your Case and Gathering Evidence
The very first thing your slip and fall lawyer will do is to investigate the cause of the accident to determine whether the accident was indeed caused by the defective condition in question and whether the owner of the property can be held liable. Once they determine that you have a legitimate slip and fall case, they will start gathering the evidence needed to bolster your claim against the negligent property owner. These might include:
- Photographs and videos that were taken at the accident scene.
- CCTV or security camera footage.
- A copy of the incident report (if the accident happened in a theme park or any other establishment where it is mandatory to file incident reports).
- Statements from people who witnessed the accident.
- A copy of the property’s cleaning, maintenance, and inspection procedures record.
- Your medical records.
#2. How Your Lawyer Might Use the Evidence to Strengthen Your Case
Your lawyer will use the evidence in their possession to counter the arguments and defenses made by the at-fault owner. The most common ways your lawyer might use the evidence to establish the property owner’s liability include:
- Using CCTV footage, your lawyer might be able to prove that the hazardous condition in question was obvious enough and existed long enough that a reasonable person would have noticed it.
- If there are any discrepancies in the cleaning, maintenance, and inspection records, your lawyer can make the argument that the at-fault owner did not have a proper mechanism in place to maintain the property and to identify and fix hazardous conditions.
- Using the photographs taken at the accident scene as well as the security camera footage, your lawyer might be able to prove that there were no warning signs in and around the spot where the accident occurred.
- Security camera footage and witness statements can also be useful in proving that you were not careless and were not distracted at the time of the accident.
#3. Calculating the Value of Your Claim
Your lawyer will work with a number of experts including medical professionals and vocational experts to determine the extent of the tangible and intangible losses caused as a result of the accident.
Depending on the severity of your injuries, you might be able to recover the following damages in a slip and fall injury claim.
- Medical expenses
- Cost of future treatment and care
- Rehabilitation expenses
- Cost of mobility aids like crutches, walkers, or a wheelchair
- Lost wages
- Reduced earning capacity
- Pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Reduced quality of life
Negotiating with the Insurance Company
This is perhaps the most important step in Michigan slip and fall lawsuits. Once your lawyer has all the evidence they need, they will send a demand letter to the at-fault property owner’s insurance company. Upon receiving the letter, the claims adjuster from the insurance company will investigate your claim and make a settlement offer. If the offer is reasonable, your lawyer will advise you to take it. Otherwise, they will negotiate with the adjuster for a better settlement offer.
The adjuster might try everything – from blaming you for the accident to saying that your injuries are not as serious as you claim – in order to reduce the value of your claim. Your lawyer will counter their arguments and allegations, use the evidence in they have to prove that it was the property owner who was at fault and negotiate aggressively for a fair and adequate settlement offer.
#4. Filing the Lawsuit
In case the insurance company refuses to pay what you deserve, your lawyer will file a slip and fall lawsuit against the at-fault owner and fight it out in court in order to recover the damages you are entitled to under the law.
Get Legal Representation from Seasoned Michigan Slip and Fall Lawyers
Slip and fall injury cases can often be complicated and hard to win, particularly because the law in Michigan gives a great deal of leeway to property owners. This is why it is important for you to be represented by a skilled and resourceful attorney who can build a solid case against the at-fault property owner, prove their negligence and liability, and recover the damages you are owed.
For over 45 years, the personal injury attorneys at the Lobb Law Firm have been fighting for the rights of injury victims in Michigan. Our attorneys have a thorough understanding of Michigan’s premises liability laws and have decades of combined experience in handling slip and fall cases. Over the years, we have recovered millions of dollars in settlements and jury awards for our clients.
Our Michigan slip and fall attorneys are known for their unmatched legal knowledge and aggressive negotiation skills. Our attorneys have extensive courtroom experience and never hesitate to take a case to trial if needed.
We work on a contingency basis and will not charge you a dime in fees unless we recover damages for you. For a free evaluation of your claim, call our firm today at 248-591-4090. You can also get in touch with us online and schedule a free consultation with one of our top-rated Michigan slip and fall accident attorneys.