Slip and fall accidents, referred to as premises liability, are a common occurrence and many people believe if you have an accident on the premises of a business, you automatically have a claim. In practical application that is far from the truth. In fact, Georgia law is heavily weighted in favor of the premises owner. If your claim is not presented precisely by an experienced attorney, the odds are it will never make it to a jury.
So, what are the elements of a successful slip and fall case?
The first requirement is that you must prove you encountered a “hazard.” Under Georgia law, just because something caused an injury does not mean it is a hazard. What the law considers to be an “everyday” obstacle cannot be the basis for a slip and fall claim. Things like tripping on a crack in the pavement or slipping on rainwater are generally not considered to be hazards for which a premises owner would be liable.
Generally, hazards that form the basis of a claim are unexpected. Things like a spill left unaddressed, shoddy construction or repair work that causes something to collapse on or under someone, or poorly stocked merchandise that falls from a shelf are common examples of hazards that form the basis of a claim.
The second requirement is that you must prove the “superior knowledge” of the property owner. Proving that a premises owner actually knew about a hazard and chose not to correct it almost never happens. Instead, for most claims you must prove that the premises owner should have known about the hazard and you should not have. Here again the law is on the side of the premises owner.
Whether or not the victim actually knew about the hazard is not the most important question. Instead, there are many situations where the law says you should have known. For example, if you passed by a hazard once and it did not cause you to fall or the hazard was “open and obvious” such that the average person would have seen it, Georgia courts will find that you have “equal knowledge” of the hazard and throw out your case.
The third requirement is that you must be certain what caused you to be injured. With certain rare exceptions, someone who is injured on the premises of another must know for certain what caused them to be injured. When someone experiences a fall with an injury, particularly a severe injury, knowing what caused you to fall can be difficult. In those instances, someone will try to figure out the cause by the process of elimination. “That must have been what caused me to fall, it’s the only explanation,” will not pass muster with Georgia courts. A victim must know what caused the fall and be able to explain how they know it without resorting to “it’s the only explanation.”
If you meet these requirements, you may have a valid slip and fall claim in Georgia. However, it is important to note that the law in this area is designed to thwart the claims of injured people. Without the right representation your claim will fail even if it has high merit.
So, what should you do if you are injured in a slip and fall accident? If you have a slip and fall accident in Georgia, there are a few things you should do to protect your legal rights.
First, you should seek medical attention immediately. Even if you are not certain about how badly you are injured, it is important to have your injuries checked by a doctor. First, that is the most important step you can take to care for your health. Also, emergency room documentation as soon as possible is very important to document that your fall is what caused you to be injured. Even if you have a valid claim, your doctor must still be able to testify under oath that the fall is what caused your injuries.
Second, you should document the accident. Save any clothing, shoes, or other items you may have been wearing or carrying when you fell without altering (i.e. cleaning or repairing) them. You or a loved one must inform the premises owner of the injury right away. Report your injury to the premises owner and demand they preserve any video surveillance of the area where you fell along with the names of any employees in the area. Third, you or a loved one should take as many photos as you can of the area where you were injured and the specific item that caused your injury as soon as possible after the incident. Fourth, be cooperative. When you are injured by the negligence of another person it is understandable that you may become angry, but that will hurt your case. Ask for aid and politely ask to preserve evidence, if the premises owner or employees refuse your request, make a note of it, but do not become belligerent. Yelling at an employee can easily be captured on a cell phone video and that is all a jury will think about when they should be thinking about your injury.
Third, you should contact an experienced slip and fall attorney. An attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options and present your case such that it has the best chance of making it to a jury.
Slip and fall cases are complex, but with the help of an experienced attorney, you can recover the damages you deserve.