When Melissa, a 40 year-old grocery shopper, decided to use the store restroom, she ignored the “Caution: Wet Floor” sign blocking the entrance and went running down the freshly mopped hallway. When she slipped and broke her leg, she assumed the store owner would be legally required to pay for her medical bills and lost wages. The answer to whether or not Melissa will be able to collect for her injuries is not easy. It depends on a number of different factors and whether she can prove the store was at fault for her injury.
Elements of a personal injury case
Not every accident gives rise to a personal injury case. Basically, in order to have a claim, your injury must have been caused by the negligence of another individual, property owner, property management company or even a local, state or federal government. There may be more than one party responsible for your injury.
There are four things you must prove in order to hold a party or parties legally liable for your injury so that you can be awarded damages:
It may seem easy, but it is not. For example, in our scenario, the store owed Melissa a duty to act reasonably under the circumstances. Whether or not they acted reasonably will depend on the nature of the warning sign, where it was placed, if it was clearly visible, did it really act as a blockade to the entrance, and any other relevant factor. Was the floor just wet as one would expect from a freshly mopped floor, or were there unexpected puddles? If a court finds the store acted reasonably and complied with its duty of care by providing the warning sign and blockade, Melissa will not be able to collect damages for her injury.
Types of personal injury cases
There are personal injury situations where one party is clearly at fault. For example, a driver runs a red light and broadsides another vehicle causing serious injury to the passengers. A surgeon leaves a sponge or instrument inside a patient during an operation. A drug manufacturer fails to warn about a known side effect of a product. As a result, a user suffers serious injuries.
Almost any time one party’s carelessness causes another to be injured, a personal injury claim can be filed. When liability is clear, insurers of negligent parties often make low-ball settlement offers, knowing the injured person needs money and will be tempted to take it even if it does not seem to be enough.
How to determine if you need an attorney
If injuries are minor and cause only an inconvenience, you likely do not have a case and do not need an attorney. If Melissa had only damaged her shoes, she could just pick herself up and be done with it. Since she broke her leg and needs medical treatment, and is possibly losing time off of work, she should seek the advice of an attorney.
Even though it seems that the store fulfilled its duty to warn her of a dangerous condition, investigation may determine that the warning sign had smudged letters and was not placed where it was clearly visible. The blockade may have been placed so that it did not really act as a blockade but was off to one side or leaning against a wall. Perhaps the hallway floor was covered in puddles not expected to be there even if the floor had just been mopped.
The role of an attorney is to always look out for the best interest of the client. That may mean negotiating the best settlement offer possible or taking the case to trial. Studies show that injured parties who are represented by an attorney end up with more money in their pockets than those who pursue their claims on their own.
Most personal injury attorneys offer a free consultation where they review the circumstances surrounding the injury and determine whether or not it is a good idea to pursue a claim or file a personal injury lawsuit.