What Happens When You Fall in a Public Place?
Many of us probably think the answer to that question is…nothing? If you slip and fall, you write it off as a bad day and move on. The truth is, however, that (1) people can be seriously injured from slip and falls, and (2) public entities have a responsibility to maintain their property to prevent such accidents. Slip and falls can occur at universities, schools, public transit stations, and other locations. When they do, someone else may owe you for your broken wrist…
How Slip-and-Fall Accidents Happen
Public slip-and-fall accidents often occur when a property owner, whether that be the city or university, neglects to adequately maintain its property. Examples of dangerous conditions include torn carpeting, uneven flooring, inadequate lighting, unlit stairs, debris left in a walkway, and wet floors.
In terms of the law, a slip-and-fall accident must meet certain parameters to be considered a slip-and-fall case. A slip-and-fall case is categorized under an umbrella of claims known as premises liability. Premises liability holds a property owner responsible for any damages that occur when someone else is injured on the owner’s property. It’s the owner’s responsibility to make a reasonable effort to maintain that property as a safe environment for visitors. To be considered a valid slip-and-fall claim, an injury must have been sustained during the incident, for which the injured party is seeking to collect damages.
Common Slip-and-Fall Injuries
These are the most common types of slip-and-fall injuries:
- Soft tissue: Soft tissue injuries aren’t physically visible, but can cause chronic pain and make sufferers more vulnerable to future injuries. Examples of soft tissue injuries include sprains and strains to muscles, tendons, and ligaments.
- Head: A head injury is serious, even if it appears to be minor. Swelling, bleeding, or a brief loss of consciousness is especially dangerous, and may signify brain damage. If you hit your head, you need to see a doctor right away, just in case.
- Cuts and abrasions: After a fall, cuts and abrasions are most common on the legs, arms, head, and hips. Cuts may require wound cleaning to guard against infection, and possibly stitches.
- Spinal cord: Alongside head injuries, spinal cord injuries are arguably the scariest consequences of a fall. These occur when the spinal cord is severed, stretched, or compressed. A spinal cord injury is almost always life-threatening, and can result in quadriplegia (full paralysis) or paraplegia (partial paralysis)
- Broken bones: Broken bones can range from minor fractures to severe breaks, and healing usually takes four to six weeks. They sometimes require surgery in addition to a cast or sling. Broken bones are often debilitating because they interfere with sufferers’ ability to do their jobs, whether at a construction site or in an office.
Liability in Public Slip-and-Fall Incidents
Slip-and-fall claims are justly filed when a public property owner neglected to maintain adequate care of the property, resulting in an injury. Let’s use, for example, a city government and a pesky sidewalk. When negotiating a settlement or fighting the case in court, the injured party and his or her attorney must prove the government’s negligence. There are four main elements of negligence:
- Duty of Care: That the government has a duty to keep public places safe by regularly inspecting them, and taking care of any issues in a reasonable time frame. Example: the city in charge of a local park, once notified, needed to fix an uneven sidewalk so that pedestrians wouldn’t trip over it.
- Breach: That the government failed to maintain its duty of care – it did not keep the property safe. Example: the city received multiple complaints for months regarding the uneven sidewalk, but did not fix it.
- Causation: That the property flaw directly caused the injury. Example: a woman walking in the park tripped over the uneven sidewalk – and she would not have tripped if the sidewalk had been fixed.
- Damages: That the accident resulted in injury that can be remedied by compensation. Example: The woman who tripped dislocated her shoulder and needs money for medical treatment, lost wages, and lingering emotional distress that keeps her from walking like she used to.
Government vs. Private Business Claims
There are a few things to remember when filing a claim against the government versus a private business—for example, when you fall on the post office steps rather than a department store escalator. The most significant difference is that both state and federal governments have strict notice and time deadlines for making a claim. They also have a limit on the amount of damages you can receive.
In New Jersey, a claim form must include the claimant’s name and address; the date, location, and circumstances surrounding the claim; a general description of the injury; the name(s) of the employee(s) responsible; and the amount claimed. The claim must be filed within 90 days of the accident, or you lose all chance of compensation.
A knowledgeable New Jersey slip-and-fall attorney will know the ins and outs of government negligence, and what is required to file a claim. If you have had a public slip and fall due to possible negligence, contact Lependorf & Silverstein, P.C., at (609) 240-0040. We can examine your case and find out if there’s compensation available for you. Don’t wait; you have very limited time to file a claim!
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