My Slip-And-Fall Injury Occurred On Public Property. Who Can I Sue?
If you slipped and fell on public property, property owned by the government or city or municipality, you can still sue. Governments, cities, and municipalities are not allowed to needlessly endanger anyone. If they do and someone gets hurt as a result, they can be held responsible for the harm.
In Florida, suing the government in a personal injury suit can be somewhat complicated. According to Florida State Law, in order to sue a public property owner, you have to seek permission under sovereign immunity. This is a complicated concept, but what it boils down to is that it is generally very difficult to sue the government. However, there are some legal allowances that let people sue the government in certain situations.
In a personal injury context, there are a few important distinctions that qualify how and why one can sue the government in its capacity as a public property owner.
One of those distinctions is a shorter statute of limitations. In Florida, there is a shorter period of time in which to bring a case against the government as a property owner than there would be to bring a case against any other property owner. The statute of limitation for suing the government in this context is 3 years. For most other personal injury cases, the statute of limitations is 2 years.
Another distinction is a limit on potential damages. If you are suing the government in a personal injury case in Florida, your damages have a lower cap than if you were suing most other defendants. Specifically, the damages are limited to $200,000, and ordered payment of attorney’s fees are capped at 25%. The idea behind this cap is to simultaneously protect people who were injured on governmental property without breaking the bank against the governmental property.
To be clear, you can sue the government for excess of $200,000 and 25% of attorney’s fees. However, in order to do so, you have to go through special legislative procedures in Tallahassee. Specifically, you need to evoke what is commonly known as the Claims Bill and seek additional damages.
As an example of how the Claims Bill works, let’s say a government or a city truck driver ran over a pedestrian and kills them. Clearly, those damages are worth more than $200,000. In that scenario, the plaintiff’s lawyer can then petition the legislature under the Claims Bill. This will loosen the purse strings on sovereign immunity and will allow you to seek damages above $200,000.
If you are in a situation where you are evoking the Claims Bill, you will definitely need an attorney who can walk you through that process.
I Was In A Slip-And-Fall Accident Where There Was A Hazardous Condition, But I Think The Accident Was Partially My Fault. Can I Still Recover Damages?
If you get in a slip-and-fall case where you think you may be partially responsible, you can absolutely still recover damages in Florida. This is possible under the theory of what’s called “Comparative Fault.” Comparative fault just means that everyone can have their own percentage of responsibility for any given accident. If you are found to be partially responsible, your recovery will be discounted according to the amount of fault.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you are injured in an accident and your potential damages are $100,000. If the property owner was found to be 70% at fault, and you were found to be 30% at fault, the property owner would owe you $70,000. This would represent your potential damages minus your percentage of fault. In this way, you can certainly still recover damages even though you may be partially responsible.
It should be noted that even if you think or have been told that you are responsible, you might not be. There are all kinds of commonly used defenses in slip-and-fall cases. For instance, a defendant may say that you should have been looking where you were going. The way we counter that defense is by explaining that as human beings, we don’t tend to look at our feet when we walk. If we were constantly looking at our feet, we wouldn’t be able to move around properly or navigate spaces very well. Therefore, expecting that everyone should be constantly looking down at their feet in case there is something they might potentially trip on is unreasonable.
This is important because these defenses often lead the injured party to assume they were more responsible than they actually are. If you fall, you may be told—and may therefore think—that the fall was partially or entirely due to the fact that you didn’t look down at where you were going. However, in reality, you may not be responsible at all, because the expectation that you should have been looking down at your feet is not reasonable.
To illustrate this point, let’s say you’re walking through a junkyard where there is glass and safety hazards everywhere. In that situation, it would be reasonable to look down at your feet and be careful about your surroundings. However, if you’re just walking down the street and looking straight ahead, it’s not reasonable to assume that you will be hypervigilant about your surroundings, or that you will be looking down at your feet very much, if at all.
In that context, if you tripped and fell because of something you didn’t see while looking straight ahead, the defense may argue that you should have seen the thing you tripped over, and could have avoided it if you had been paying closer attention to the ground. They may argue that the injury is therefore all your fault. However, in a situation like that, you might not actually be at fault at all.
This is another reason why you should contact a personal injury attorney if you think you might have a personal injury case in Florida. An experienced personal injury attorney can guide you through some of these common pitfalls. After consulting with an attorney, you may be surprised to realize that you’re really not at fault for something you thought you were at fault for. Remember, in order to prove that you were at fault, the defense has to prove that you actually did something wrong or unreasonable, as opposed to what the property owner did. Oftentimes, folks assume they have way more provable liability or fault than they actually do. An attorney can help clear that up.
At What Point After Being Injured In A Slip-And-Fall Or Trip-And-Fall Accident Should I Get An Attorney Involved?
If you’re in a slip-and-fall or trip-and-fall accident, you should get an attorney involved as soon as possible. The sooner an attorney is involved, the better off you are, and the more the attorney will be able to help. Ideally, you should contact an attorney immediately after the accident. It is obviously acceptable to prioritize attending to your medical needs and other immediate practical matters before you call an attorney. Do not put your health at risk in order to get legal advice. However, if you are capable of calling an attorney right after an accident, they can advise you on what to do and what not to do, as well as what evidence to collect, to make the best case for yourself in the future.
As I explained earlier in this book, it is definitely important to seek medical attention as soon after a personal injury accident as you can. However, there are certain pieces of evidence that you will want to collect immediately, as they can quickly become impossible to document. One example of this sort of evidence is photographs of the dangerous conditions that caused your accident.
In a slip-and-fall or a trip-and-fall case, arguably the most important thing for your case is photographic evidence of the dangerous condition. When you’re taking these photographs, you want to make sure that you have some type of contrast. That is, you want to make sure that you have something in the photo that contrasts, so that you can compare the scale and size. I like to use a ruler, but if you don’t have a ruler, anything with a standard measurable size will work. For instance, you can use a quarter or a dollar bill to show site comparisons, because quarters and dollar bills all have standard sizes.
In addition, when you take these sorts of photographs, you should make sure to take them from a lot of different angles to really get a comprehensive picture of the scene. The pictures should clearly depict, for instance, how big the water puddle you slipped in is, or how high the differential in height between the street and the sidewalk is.
It is important to take these photographs—or have someone else take these photographs—as soon after the accident as possible. This is because the property owner is going to fix the problem and remove as much evidence as possible as soon after the accident as they can. Once the dangerous condition is rectified, removed, repaired, or cleaned up, the evidence is gone.
In some cases, an attorney can help you get this evidence for your case. For instance, take a situation where a person didn’t initially get photographic evidence and cannot go to the site of the accident. If the dangerous condition is still as it was when it caused the person’s injury, a lawyer may be able to send out an investigator to take some photographs. This will preserve key pieces of evidence and help your case immeasurably.
So, you want to call a lawyer as soon as possible in part because they know exactly what to do and how to preserve evidence, as well as where to secure the photographs of the dangerous condition. An attorney may also be able to help prevent the property owner from removing or disturbing the evidence before it can be documented. In our office, when we first take on a case, one of the first things we do is send out a Preservation of Evidence Spoliation Letter. This type of letter puts the property owner on legal notice that there was an injury due to a dangerous condition on their property. The letter will also describe the dangerous condition and ask that they preserve all the evidence for documentation, as there will be a claim forthcoming in the future.
If the property owner destroys the cited evidence after receiving a Preservation of Evidence Spoilation Letter, then they could be held responsible for what’s called a Spoliation of Evidence claim. This means that if the case makes it to a jury trial, the judge will give the jury specific instructions saying that the evidence that could not be presented—and which the defendant destroyed despite notice—would objectively help the plaintiff and hurt the defense. This sort of jury instruction coming in clear terms directly from the judge can be very powerful and persuasive.
Unfortunately, if you do not contact an attorney in time to immediately send a Preservation of Evidence Spoilation Letter, the recourse of a Spoilation of Evidence claim may not be available to you. If you miss out on that opportunity to preserve the evidence right away, it could be lost forever.
Another reason to call an attorney in the immediate aftermath of getting hurt is that they can advise you on what sort of doctor to get treatment from. Many people who get into slip-and-fall and trip-and-fall accidents have never been in accidents before. This leads to some uncertainty about what sort of doctor you should see. You may know your body, but without experience with the sort of injuries you have incurred, you probably don’t quite know what sort of doctor treats those injuries. Do you go to a primary care doctor, an ER, urgent care, or a specialist? Is there a specific doctor that is recommended for these injuries?
As a personal injury attorney, I can tell you that we deal with these kinds of injuries all the time. We can walk you through the best kind of doctor to see for your specific injuries. For instance, if you get headaches after a slip-and-fall accident, you may want to see a neurologist. If you have shoulder pain, you might want to see an orthopedist. We’ll be able to guide you through that process, and make sure you get the best medical care you can get.
Attorneys can also work with any doctors you might see on the billing and payment and potentially taking cases on contingency. If there is a way to ensure you don’t have to shoulder costs out of pocket, we will know about it or we will find it. That way, you can focus on getting better, and your attorneys can work on building and presenting your case and making sure you’re fully compensated for all damages (both economic and non-economic).
For more information on Slip And Fall Cases In Florida, an initial consultation is your next best step. Get the information and legal answers you are seeking by calling (954) 546-7608 today.