Falls, mostly slip-and-falls, account for over eight million emergency room visits a year in the United States. That makes falls the largest single ER visit category. Many of these victims are older adults. These individuals face a higher risk of injury. Plus, the physical and emotional fallout of an elderly fall is truly awful. Yet falls are an equal opportunity injury. Anyone can fall anywhere at any time.
Victims old and young need money to put their lives back together after incidents like these, and a Lexington personal injury attorney helps ensure they get the money they need and deserve. That includes compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and noneconomic losses, such as pain and suffering.
Where Do Falls Happen?
Since older people face higher fall risks, nursing home falls are rather common. Over half of nursing home residents suffer a serious fall each year. Pre-existing conditions have much to do with the fall itself and the injuries sustained.
Many older adults suffer from Age-related Macular Degeneration and various gait disorders. AMD blurs straight-ahead vision, which is necessary for hazard avoidance and balance. Many older people simply cannot see hazards like wet spots and uneven flooring, especially if the light is dim. And, due to a combination of AMD and a gait disorder, if these individuals stumble, they usually fall.
Nursing home falls have physical and emotional consequences. Many of these victims have osteoporosis and other pre-existing conditions which make relatively minor falls relatively serious. Emotionally, many fall victims are so afraid of a repeat fall that they become almost completely immobile.
Grocery store falls are not far behind, usually because of a combination of high traffic and lax safety protocols.
Slip-resistant mats, or the lack thereof, are a good example. Shoppers often pick through produce bins, so some items usually fall on the floor. Many stores only have slip-resistant mats directly in front of a bin. Many other stores do not even take that precaution.
Building a Claim
Legal duty and actual negligence are the two basic pillars of most tort claims, and a slip-and-fall claim is no exception.
To determine duty in a premises liability or other fall case, Kentucky law uses a classification system rooted in English common law. The three duty categories largely depend on the relationship between the nursing home, grocery store, or other property owner and the victim.
- Invitee: Most fall victims are invitees, since they normally have permission to be on the property and their presence benefits the owner in some way. Owners have a duty of reasonable care to protect invitees from falls and other injuries.
- Licensee: A guest of an apartment tenant is usually a licensee. Such individuals have permission to be on the property, but their presence does not benefit the owner. As a result, the duty of care is lower. It’s usually limited to a warning about latent (hidden) defects.
- Trespasser: This horrible-sounding word basically means there was no permission and no benefit. Children who break into their neighbors’ yards to use their pools while they are away are trespassers. Certain exceptions, such as the attractive nuisance doctrine, may apply.
As for actual negligence, this pillar typically involves a lack of care. But in this context, actual negligence relates to the owner’s knowledge of the hazard. This knowledge could be:
- Direct evidence of actually knowledge, or
- Circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known).
If the owner knew about the hazards, the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur (the thing speaks for itself) usually applies. Typically, the jury can infer negligence in these situations. Victim/plaintiffs must establish actual negligence by a preponderance of the evidence (more likely than not). That’s the lowest standard of proof in civil or criminal law.
What to Expect
When liability is reasonably clear, insurance companies have a duty to quickly settle fall injury claims. So, attorneys sometimes settle these claims quickly. However, there is usually at least some question of liability, usually because of legal defenses like comparative fault and assumption of the risk.
So, to put pressure on the insurance company and protect the victim’s legal rights, most attorneys file legal claims in court. These filings also help settle claims more efficiently. During the court-supervised discovery process, both sides must put all their cards on the table, including any evidence related to the fall. So for example, if there is a restroom cleaning log which indicates the floor was wet, such information usually comes to light during discovery.
Out of court settlements give victims more control over the outcome and, since there is no trial risk, usually result in significant damage awards.
Slip-and-fall victims might be entitled to significant compensation. For a free consultation with an experienced personal injury lawyer in Lexington, contact the Goode Law Office, PLLC. We routinely handle matters in Central Kentucky and surrounding counties.