The winters in New England can be brutal, with months of snow and the occasional blizzard. A snow-covered sidewalk is not uncommon, but it is a liability. If you slip and fall on your neighbor’s sidewalk, you can sue them for compensation if you suffer a severe injury and incur damages. However, the circumstances must meet the requirements of state laws that govern slip and fall accidents, starting with the concept of premises liability.
What Is Premises Liability?
Premises liability is a legal concept that refers to a property owner’s responsibility to ensure the safety of lawful visitors on their property at all times. This applies to residential and commercial property owners. For example, if you fall on the stairs at someone’s home because they left a spill on a step and had no handrail to grab, you could file a claim with their homeowner’s insurance or a lawsuit through your local civil court. Given the high traffic, commercial property, such as a restaurant or grocery store, is much more at-risk for a slip and fall accident. However, they are just as liable under certain circumstances.
Who Is Responsible for Clearing Snow and Ice From Sidewalks?
A common misconception among residential property owners is that the sidewalk is public property. Therefore they think they are not responsible for clearing it of snow and ice. However, most states require property owners to maintain the sidewalks in front of their properties, which means they are liable if someone suffers an injury in a slip and fall caused by their negligence. Unfortunately for the injured person, these cases can be challenging to prove, and they often face a combative insurance adjustor.
What Are Some Common Defenses To a Premises Liability Claim?
Before filing a claim or lawsuit, note that you must suffer damages to recover financial compensation. Not all accidents result in injuries. For example, suppose you fell because of snow on your neighbor’s sidewalk but suffered no injuries or damaged property. In that case, you have no damages to claim and therefore have no personal injury case. However, if you did suffer a severe injury, be prepared for the defense to respond to your claim with attempts to dodge liability. Some common defenses to a premises liability claim include:
- The hazard was evident, and any reasonable person would have seen it and avoided it.
- The defendant did not control this property and is not liable. This claim is easily refutable.
- The defendant was not aware of the hazard. Therefore, they can not be liable for the damage it caused.
As with any personal injury claim, situational elements can affect your claim. For example, if the snowfall and your accident occurred while the defendant was out of town, they may argue that they could do nothing. Additionally, if the snow resulted from an ongoing storm, the defendant could not be expected to clear it before the storm ended. However, the most common defense is that the plaintiff shared the fault for the accident.
The Comparative Negligence Rule
Most states apply the comparative negligence rule to cases that involve shared fault for a personal injury. Therefore, if you are at least partially responsible for the accident and your injuries, it can impact the value of your award. Still, it does not automatically recuse you from being able to collect damages. Additionally, there are two types of comparative negligence:
- The pure comparative negligence rule states that your percentage of responsibility does not disqualify you from compensation unless you are entirely at fault.
- The modified comparative negligence rule state that your percentage of fault cannot exceed 49% or 50%. States that follow the modified version set the threshold for ineligibility.
Once the court determines your percentage of liability, they deduct an equal amount from the total damages. For example, Massachusetts is a modified comparative negligence state with a 51% threshold. Therefore, if the court finds you 50% at fault, you can still recover 50% of the damages. However, if it finds you 51% at fault or more, you are not eligible for compensation.
What Damages Can You Recover?
The damages for a slip and fall accident case are typically limited to economic and non-economic damages, known collectively as compensatory damages. Punitive damages, which are awarded in cases involving gross negligence or malicious intent, are unlikely. However, the purpose of compensatory damages is to make whole what was taken from you.
The losses with inherent monetary value in your case include the following:
- The cost of medical care. This includes ambulance and emergency treatment expenses, medications, surgeries, hospital stays, doctor visits, necessary medical devices, and any rehabilitative treatments.
- The income lost during recovery. This includes wages lost because of missed days at work and the loss of earning capacity.
- The cost of damaged property. If anything you carried during the accident sustained damage from the fall, you could claim it.
Any other expenses directly related to your accident are also recoverable. For example, if you need household help or childcare during recovery, you can include those things in your claim.
Your non-economic losses are the elements of the injuries and recovery that affect your psychological state, mainly if your injuries are severe. Examples include physical pain and suffering, emotional distress, and mental anguish. Your attorney will interview people in your life and ask you to keep a journal documenting your recovery to show how your injuries affected your life. One of the many advantages of having legal representation is they also know how to value these losses.
What Are the Advantages of Hiring a Personal Injury Lawyer?
The liability component of a slip and fall accident case can quickly become challenging, and without proven negligence, you cannot recover compensation for your damages under tort law. However, a personal injury lawyer knows from the start whether you have sufficient evidence to support your claim, and they will help you build a solid case while you focus on healing. Some advantages of having legal representation include the following:
- They understand the nuances of premises liability.
- They have seasoned negotiation skills they will use to argue for a fair settlement to cover your losses.
- They handle all communication with the insurance company, which may become combative when trying to avoid paying.
- They investigate the accident, using their expertise to identify evidence of negligence and damages.
- They know how to adequately value your claim so the settlement or award will sufficiently cover damages.
- They protect you from any party attempting to violate your right to compensation and ensure you do nothing that could hurt your claim.
- They provide a professional presence and friendly, compassionate support, which is especially important when recovering from severe injuries that can be emotionally taxing.
At Jason Stone Injury Lawyers, we help victims of severe injuries get the compensation they need to rebuild their lives daily. You do not need to suffer the financial consequences of a severe injury caused by another person. Our commitment is to provide a fast and fair settlement without adding to the financial strain. The first element of the Stone Cold Guarantee states that we offer our services at no upfront cost and only get paid when you get paid. Contact us at (800) 577-5188 to schedule your free consultation today. There’s No Obligation, Just Information (R).