If you are severely injured on someone else’s property because of a dangerous condition that should not be there, you’re probably not thinking about what you need to be doing to preserve a legal claim. Nonetheless, there are certain steps that you can take that will help strengthen or preserve your potential legal claim based upon Georgia’s premises liability laws.
I have had clients fall at a store or other business and not report the incident at all because they were so embarrassed or were in so much pain when it happened. Reporting the fall or incident immediately at the scene is the best case scenario for preserving your “slip & fall” or premises claim. Failing to report the claim does not completely eliminate it, but it does make it more difficult to prove that the fall or incident even happened. Reporting the incident usually causes the property owner to create an incident report that describes what happened; even if the property owner denies responsibility for the incident, an incident report is evidence that it happened.
Taking photographs of the scene of your fall or other injury immediately after it happens is ideal for the preservation of evidence of how the injury occurred. Important pieces of information such as what caused the fall or injury, whether there were warning signs, or who was present when it happened could be captured. Again, this is something that may be very difficult to do when you’ve just gotten hurt and are incapacitated at the time.
Independent witnesses, such as other customers or guests of a property, can be key to a premises liability or “slip & fall” case. Like photographs and incident reports, witnesses can do things such as confirm that the incident happen, identify what caused the incident, identify whether there were warning signs, or even reveal that the property owner already knew about the dangerous condition that caused the incident. Speaking to witnesses and obtaining their contact information on the scene early while their memories are fresh can be vital to a premises liability case.
Medical treatment is an essential component of a claim for a “slip & fall” or any personal injury case for at least two reasons: (1) to treat your injuries and make you better; and, (2) to obtain written documentation of your injuries, diagnosis, treatment plan, and prognosis.
The timing of the treatment is extremely important because it shows that the “slip & fall” or other incident occurred and then actually caused your injury. When you go to a medical provider, the medical provider, whether it be a doctor, a nurse, or a physical therapist, writes medical notes about your complaints, your diagnosis, his/her physical examination, his/her treatment plans, and his/her orders and prescriptions. The closer the timing of the first medical visit is after the “slip & fall” or other incident, the stronger the evidence that it happened and that it caused your injuries. Ideally, in a slip & fall” case, calling the ambulance to the scene of the fall is the best case scenario.
The frequency, consistency, and duration of the medical treatment are also very important elements of your case. Going to the doctor one time and complaining about your injuries is not normally sufficient to show the full picture of how you were injured and what needs to be done about it. While you do not have to go to the doctor every single day, you should follow doctor’s orders about following up with any imaging, physical therapy, and future visits-medical notes also document “no shows,” which the defendant in your case will use to argue means you are not that injured or did not care enough to show up to your doctor’s appointment. The consistency of medical treatment matters, too. What that means is that you don’t want to go one time and wait 4 months before you go again because the defendant in your case loves to use gaps in treatment as a defense to say you were not really injured. Finally, the duration of medical treatment shows the extent of your injuries–in theory, the longer you treat, the more injured you are. Of course, with all of this being said, none of your medical treatment should be contrived for your case. Normally, if you simply follow doctor’s orders and course of treatment all of the above will be satisfied.
Many businesses have surveillance cameras on their property that could capture any falls or incidents and what happened prior to the fall or incident. For example, if a customer slips and falls on water, there may be video footage that shows the water was spilled 2 hours prior and ignored by store employees 3 times before the customer fell. That would show evidence of negligence on the store owner’s part. Thus, after a “slip & fall” or other incident involving an injury on a property occurs, it is important to immediately notify the property owner that an incident occurred and ask it to preserve any video footage or other documents or items related to the incident. Many surveillance systems “write over” or purge videos after a certain time period, so putting the property on notice as quickly as possible is vital. If you have an attorney, the attorney normally sends a letter asking for the evidence to be preserved. If the property owner fails to comply, there are legal consequences to the owner when the case goes forward to trial.
About the Author Betty Nguyen Davis is an Atlanta attorney who solely focuses her practice on plaintiff’s personal injury work. Betty is consistently recognized by her peers as a top attorney in Georgia by Super Lawyers and Georgia Trend and is highly recommended by her clients as a aggressive and persistent, yet caring and accessible attorney.