It may come as a surprise to learn that falls rank among the top three causes of unintentional injury-related fatalities in the United States. Additionally, they are the leading cause of non-fatal injuries, as reported by the National Safety Council. The NSC also estimates that over 42,000 people died in 2020 due to falls at home and work. Per the National Floor Safety Institute, more than 1 million emergency room visits a year result from slip and falls. Slip-and-fall accidents in restaurants are, thankfully, not always fatal. Unfortunately, they are quite common. Whether you work in a restaurant or simply dine out from time to time, the risk of experiencing a slip-and-fall in that environment is real. Factors like wet or greasy floors, poor lighting or signage, loose rugs, uneven flooring, fast-moving employees, and crowded spaces can all contribute to the risk of slipping and falling in a restaurant. A slip-and-fall may be embarrassing, but it is no laughing matter. It can cause long-lasting and life-changing damage. Some common injuries that may result from a slip-and-fall are spinal cord injuries or herniated discs, head injuries, or broken bones.
What To Do at the Restaurant
I fell at a restaurant. What should I do now? In this scenario, you’ll want to do everything you can to not only treat and care for any related injuries but also to ensure that you receive appropriate compensation from the restaurant so that you aren’t faced with the burden of paying for unexpected, out-of-pocket medical expenses. Here are some steps you should take at the scene of the fall.
Report the Accident
Before leaving the restaurant:
Make sure you have informed management about the incident.
Speak directly with whoever is in charge at the time.
Provide them with a truthful account of how, where, and why the slip and fall occurred.
They should fill out an incident report, and you should request a copy of that report. Do not provide more information than what is requested. Do not speculate about the nature of your injuries. Do not make any apologies. Before leaving, be sure to get their contact information.
Document Everything About the Scene
If possible, document as much as you can at the scene of the accident. If you have your cell phone with you, try to take pictures of where the accident occurred. Be sure to take several pictures from multiple angles. Include shots of any specific thing that may have been responsible for your accident, such as liquid or food on the floor or a loose floorboard. If signage or lighting in the area were contributing factors, be sure to document that as well. Write down your observations about the event, including the date and time. Take note of any security cameras in the restaurant that may have captured your accident, and document their locations.
Document Your Injuries
You may not be immediately aware of injuries after your fall, and injuries that you are aware of may worsen over time. If there is any visible damage to your body directly after the fall, take a picture of it. Write down any pain you may be feeling at the time. You will want to gather more in-depth and official documentation from your doctors later on, but it doesn’t hurt to make immediate notes about your injuries for reference.
Speak to Witnesses
Restaurants tend to be crowded places. After your fall, inquire if anyone in the vicinity saw what happened. If there were witnesses to your accident, ask each one for their name and contact information.
What To Do After Leaving the Restaurant
Now that you have some tips about what to do at the location where the fall took place, it’s time to start thinking about what steps to take after you leave the restaurant. If it was a serious accident, chances are you won’t be done dealing with the repercussions of your fall the minute you walk out the door. Even seemingly trivial slips and falls can cause long-term physical damage to your body. Here are some steps to take once you’ve left the scene of the fall.
Get Medical Attention
Depending on how serious the fall is, you may need to contact emergency services for assistance right away. If there is a chance that you have sustained any life-threatening injuries, you’ll want to call 9-1-1 promptly. Your physical safety and well-being are the most important factors to consider after your fall. If the situation does not require immediate medical attention, it’s still a good idea to make an appointment with the appropriate medical professional as soon as possible. If feasible, try to get to a doctor who can assess the true nature of your injuries on the same day or within the first few days of the accident.
Continue Medical Care As Needed
After your initial medical examination, it may be necessary to keep seeing your doctor for continued treatment or monitoring. If any scans, x-rays, surgery, or physical therapy are recommended, be sure to follow through. If other injuries arise that may be related to your fall but were unknown to you when it first occurred, be sure to have a doctor assess them as well.
Keep Records of Medical Visits
Keep thorough records of your medical care following the accident. If your care providers use online portals to track appointments, test results, and follow-up instructions, make sure you know how to access all of that information. If they do not use online portals, be sure to request records at the time of your appointments. Also, keep track of receipts for any medical care or prescriptions you pay for in relation to the accident.
Continue Documenting Your Injuries
If your injuries are visible, continue to take pictures that illustrate how they are progressing. Whether or not they are visible, you may also want to keep notes about how your body feels in the days and weeks after the accident. If you had a job before the fall took place, are you able to keep working after the fall? Keep a record of workdays missed as a result of your slip-and-fall accident.
Contact a Personal Injury Attorney
Whether or not you know if you want to file a lawsuit against the restaurant where the fall took place, it’s a good idea to at least speak with a well-qualified and experienced personal injury attorney. You should do this as soon after the fall as possible. A good attorney will help you understand if your situation merits legal action. If a lawsuit is justifiable, all the documentation you’ve been diligently collecting will be helpful for your case.
How To Start a Slip-and-Fall Lawsuit
If you’ve sustained injuries from a slip-and-fall accident in a restaurant, it is natural that you would want to seek compensation for any physical, emotional, or financial damage caused by your accident. After gathering pertinent information from you about your situation, your lawyer will help determine the best course of action to ensure you receive fair compensation for your injuries.
Insurance Liability Claim or Lawsuit?
In talking with your attorney, it may be discovered that you can receive compensation for your injuries by simply filing an insurance claim against the restaurant’s liability insurance. If this is the route you decide to take, you will not actually have to file a lawsuit. Contact your insurance company, but make sure your lawyer is present when you do so. Provide them with full details of the event, and let them handle the claim. If the insurance claim is successful, there is no guaranteed timeline of when your payout will occur, but typically, insurers will pay out within 30 days.
Filing a Complaint
If you and your attorney determine that a lawsuit against the restaurant will be the most effective way to get you paid, your attorney will begin by drafting and filing a complaint with the courts. A strong complaint will do the following:
Identify all parties involved.
Outline the details of the case against the defendant (How did the fall happen? Why do you believe the restaurant is responsible?)
Describe your injuries.
Lay out the demands for judgment/relief (What are you asking for as compensation?)
The objective of the complaint is to make the defendant (the restaurant) aware of your factual and legal claims.
Filing a Summons
After the complaint has been filed, you will also need to file a summons, which is a court document telling the defendant that a personal injury lawsuit has been filed against them. Once the necessary paperwork has been completed, the complaint, summons, and any other relevant documents will be delivered to the defendant through a legal practice referred to as “service of process.” You will then await their reply. They should respond with an indication of whether they admit to or deny the statements in your claim. Failure to respond to a summons puts the defendant at risk of automatically losing their case.
Going Through Discovery to Prepare for Trial
In preparation for any personal injury lawsuit, both sides will need to go through what is known as the discovery process. During this time, injury laws will be researched, claims will be investigated, and witnesses and experts may be interviewed. Whether or not your personal injury lawsuit goes to trial will depend largely on what is uncovered during the discovery process, as the information put forth directly impacts whether or not a settlement between the two involved parties can be reached during mediation.
If the parties involved cannot reach an out-of-court settlement through mediation, it may be time to go to trial. In a civil lawsuit, the burden of proof lies with the plaintiff. This means it will be up to your attorney to prove that the claims against the restaurant are factual. They will do so by demonstrating negligence on behalf of the restaurant.
If you are ready to speak with a qualified attorney about your slip-and-fall accident, let one of our experienced lawyers help you today.
Resources for Victims of Slip-and-Fall Accidents
The aftermath of a slip-and-fall is a tumultuous time. Dealing with the pain and discomfort caused by injuries and navigating appointments and communications with doctors, lawyers, and insurance companies can be financially and emotionally draining. If you need extra support outside what you are receiving from your doctors and attorneys, check out some of the information below.
Disability and Temporary Disability Benefits
Depending on several factors, such as the nature and severity of your injuries, your age, your financial status, and whether or not you are able to work after the slip-and-fall incident, you may be eligible for government-funded disability benefits that can help with finances while you await the results of your lawsuit.
If you meet the following requirements, you may qualify for SSDI benefits:
You cannot work due to a medical condition that is expected to last at least a year or result in death.
Your disability is not partial or short-term.
You meet the Social Security Administration’s definition of disability.
You are younger than your full retirement age.
For SSI benefits, the following requirements must be met:
Are age 65 and older, blind, or have a disability.
Have limited income (wages, pensions, etc.).
Have limited resources (the things you own).
Are U.S. citizens, nationals of the U.S., and some noncitizens.
Reside in one of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, or the Northern Mariana Islands. It does not include Puerto Rico, Guam, or the United States Virgin Islands. Exception: The children of military parent(s) assigned to permanent duty outside the U.S. and certain students temporarily abroad may receive SSI payments outside the U.S.
Are under age 18 and have physical or mental condition(s) that very seriously limits their daily activities for a period of 12 months or more or may be expected to result in death, and
Live in a household with limited income (benefits based on need) or resources.
To determine which of these benefits you may qualify for, you can reach the program at 1-800-772-1213 or go to https://ssabest.benefits.gov/benefit-finder/.
As part of the National Disability Institute, the Financial Resilience Center is an online hub of information that provides guidance about how to become financially resilient during tough times for people with disabilities and chronic health issues.
Free Legal Aid
The American Bar Association Free Legal Answers is a virtual legal advice clinic that provides an online version of the walk-in clinic model. Users may request brief advice and counsel about a specific civil legal issue from a volunteer lawyer by posting their civil legal questions to their state’s website. Lawyers will then follow up with basic legal advice and information without the expectation of long-term representation. This is a great resource for people who are seeking advice and information about non-criminal legal matters, but cannot afford a lawyer.
You can contact the ABA through the ABA Service Center Hotline at (800) 285-2221 or email them at Service@americanbar.org, Monday - Friday, 9:00 AM - 6:00 PM ET.
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