August 29th, 2018|
One of the first things that I learned as a trial lawyer is that I should be educating, advising and litigating for my client. For that to happen, I need to know the same things that we were all taught as young children. What happened? When did it happen? Where did it happen? Who knows what happened? Why did it happen? And most importantly, what do you expect me to do for you? So with that, let’s explore all the areas of law that a work injury can spread to.
The Worst Day of Your Life
As part of your work day, you are asked by your branch manager to drive from your Dupont Circle worksite to the Vienna, Virginia, office to cover for a sick colleague. As you discuss this with your boss, you let her know that you have a conference call with the Atlanta office at 1 p.m. She tells you no worries; you should attend by telephone on your way to Vienna. That sounds like a plan, and before you leave, you check in with your significant other who is on their way to a job interview since they have been out of work for the last six months. Oh, and you send a text to your son that you will watch his game on Game Changer, since there will be no way you will make it back home to Maryland in time for his game. Just another day in your life, and it can’t end soon enough, you think to yourself. However, somewhere west of Falls Church, Virginia, while relaying the data to the Atlanta office, something happens. The next thing you see is your significant other holding your hand in the hospital. You are told that you are lucky to be alive because your car looks like an accordion. The tractor trailer that crashed into your car also hit another car, and that driver was not so lucky. As you try to piece this together, you notice the pins and rods sticking out of your ankle, and your back and head are throbbing with pain. You ask your significant other, what are we going to do? Unfortunately, this kind of day plays out all too frequently. As a trial lawyer, my sole goal is to try to help you put your life together again through the use of the laws that exist to protect you and everyone when this happens. So, let’s begin.
Let’s examine what happened to you. We know from the discussions at the hospital that you were involved in a vehicle crash and that your injuries were caused by that crash. There are many ways to investigate how this crash happened. We can examine the police report, the first responders’ notes and the hospital records for x-rays taken of body parts that you might not know are injured. These are just some of the initial steps I take to make sure I have a basic understanding as to how your life was changed that day.
Let’s examine when it happened to you. We know from the arrival of the first responders that your life was changed at 1:32 p.m. We know from the examination of your phone records that you were on a work call to Atlanta at the time of the crash. We know from your car data, as well as the surrounding road cameras, that you were not speeding and did not leave your lane. We also know from the letters we sent out to the company of the truck driver that they cannot dispose of the phone records or other communications that may have been taking place at the time of the crash or it will be held against them later.
Let’s examined where it happened. We know from the road cameras, towing reports, police reports and reconstruction reports (as you recall, the other car driver was not so lucky) and hospital reports that the crash happened in Falls Church, Virginia.
Let’s examine who knows what happened. We know from the investigation so far that your colleagues in Atlanta heard the crash. We know from the various reports by police that other drivers witnessed the crash. We know from the hospital that your significant other was called to the hospital and given a description of what happened, as was your boss. You also found out that statements were given to all the insurance companies involved.
Let’s examine why it happened. We know from our investigation so far that you were not the cause of this crash. However, that is not the full picture. We also have to know why your injuries happened as a result of the crash. I need to examine not only all the medical reports and tests from the hospital, but also all the treatment reports from the doctors you will need to see and pay to recover from your injuries.
How a Lawyer That Cares Protects You
As a trial lawyer, I have a pretty good idea of why injuries happen, and it usually never starts with “I meant to do that.” The fact of the matter is that all injuries can be prevented—it’s just a question of when it could have been prevented and did the person or entity want to invest the time or money it would take to prevent the injury. Now join me on a journey to put your life together again through the laws that may be available to you.
I know of only two ways that I, as a personal injury lawyer, can put your life together again under the laws: medical treatment and money. I put them in that order because if I take care of your needs, the money will take care of itself. Your first cause of action to rectify the harms brought to you and your family is to pursue a negligence action against the responsible parties. We look at many things when considering who to hold responsible for your harms, including where should we hold those parties responsible. The responsible parties to take care of you medically and financially can be the driver of the truck, the company who employs the driver of the truck, the parties responsible for the design of the roadway you were on, your employer or your own car insurance, among others. In your case, we will decide together which state or federal court we should hold the parties responsible in so that we can put your life together again. In a negligence action, the laws are designed to address both your economic and non-economic harms (pain and suffering), and depending on the state, we will want to pursue it in a court that provides the fullest recovery. However, this will take a considerable period of time, and you have bills to pay and a life to continue while you receive medical care.
We should also look at what other laws there are to protect you. Your injury arose out of and in the course of your employment, and therefore the workers’ compensation laws are available to help you medically and financially. While you are recovering and not able to work, the workers’ compensation laws of at least the District of Columbia, and maybe the surrounding DMV, will provide you with lifetime medical care at the expense of your employer’s workers’ compensation insurance, as well as tax-free weekly income replacement benefits to help financially during your recovery. This is an important law that is sometimes overlooked, but for injuries at work it is invaluable to you, since your employer is required to purchase them as part of your employee benefits.
If we believe that this life changing injury has permanently restricted you from engaging in certain job duties of your employment, you may have rights under the American with Disabilities Act. It is not okay that your career and your family’s right to happiness has been put in jeopardy as a result of this injury. Although a personal injury attorney may not specifically handle this part of your case, he or she should be able to educate as to who may be able to help.
If we believe that this life changing injury has completely eliminated your ability to ever return to gainful employment, you may have access to medical care and financial assistance under the social security laws of your state. This may include a claim for social security disability benefits which you have been paying into because of your employment. Once again, a personal injury attorney should be able to educate you as to what steps to take to protect this right. You may also have been prudent enough to have purchased a disability policy in case of your inability to work, or even your employer, as part of your employment, has a disability policy on your behalf that you could turn to for medical and financial assistance.
What You Should Expect
Now that you have been educated about your rights, you need to be advised as to what your best course is to put your life back together. We will discuss not only the time and effort it will take, but a personal injury will be open and honest about what it will cost you. In most cases, it will cost you nothing as personal injury cases are handled on a contingency basis. This basically means that your personal injury lawyer will not get paid unless you get paid. As all of us are aware, if it’s not worth fighting for, then it is not worth pursuing. I never have represented a person with a life changing injury and heard them say, “My life and my family’s life is not worth fighting for.”
At each step of the process, timely advice is the key to putting your life back together. Therefore, communication with your personal injury lawyer is a sure sign that they care about you. This is all about you. Without you, there is no personal injury case. This relationship is the foundation on which your recovery will begin.
As the saying, “put up or shut up” implies, we are going to have to fight for your rights. Your life changing injury happened, and somebody has to say, “I was the responsible party.” As simple as it is to say, I’m sorry for what I have done, it’s not that simple when money and reputation are involved. In order to put your life back together again, a personal injury lawyer may need to go to trial to have a jury of your peers hold the company of the truck driver responsible, or to force your underinsured insurance policy to pay if they refuse to pay you the benefits you purchased from them. However you choose your fight and against whom you fight, make no doubt about it, you will need a personal injury lawyer to lead the way.
As I said earlier, one of the first things I learned many years ago about what a personal injury lawyer should do: Educate, Advise, and Litigate for your clients, I have spent over 20 years of my life discovering that those are the tools of a personal injury lawyer. I have also discovered that in order to be a personal injury lawyer, I must always strive to be:
A lawyer that will always have time to listen to you. A lawyer that will always have time to put your interest first. A lawyer that will always fight for you.
April 13th, 2018|
At ChasenBoscolo, we frequently consult with clients involved in trip and falls or slip and falls. These cases are so common because falls can happen anywhere, whether it be at home, at work or around a store or restaurant. Specifically, these cases are referred to as premises liability cases because the owner of the premises may be liable to the injured person. The owner may be liable for failing to fix a defect on their property, failing to warn guests or customers about a defect on their property or failing to prevent slips or falls on their property. For more information on slip and fall cases at rental homes or apartment complexes, take a look at my colleague Shakétta Denson’s blog post.
Premises liability cases almost always end up in litigation. When you pursue a claim, the property owner’s insurance company will commonly undervalue your injury as well as your pain and suffering from that injury. These minimal insurance evaluations happen no matter how serious the injury or how much it seems the property owner is at fault. The reason for this is twofold. First, insurance companies hope that injured people will take the low offer rather than go through costly and time-consuming litigation. Second, insurance companies know that if proper evidence has not been collected and maintained at the beginning of a case, it becomes harder for the injured person to prove their case in court.
The common mistakes people make after falling are:
- Not getting full contact information for eyewitnesses
- Not notifying any employees or managers on site
- Not creating any written report or claim with the store on site
- Not taking any photographs or video of the defect or hazard that caused their trip or fall
While your lawyer can help gather this information during an investigation, the best point in time to gather this information is immediately after your fall.
What should I do if I am hurt in a fall?
If you do fall, what steps should you take to increase the chances that you and your lawyer can win your case if and when it ends up in court? The best cases are initially built on four core pieces of evidence:
In order to be liable to an injured person, a property owner must first have notice of the defect on their property. In other words, before the fall, the property owner or their employees had to have been aware that there was a defect or hazard that needed to be fixed, cleaned or warned about to their customers and/or guests. Sometimes when a person falls, an eyewitness will say:
- “I almost just fell there too.”
- “I just told them to clean that.”
- “I just told them to fix that.”
- “I just told them they should put a warning sign up.”
If someone says something like this to you after your incident, get their first and last names and phone number immediately. Their testimony may be the key to proving the owner had notice of the problem and failed to fix it or warn other people. However, that testimony may not occur until 2–3+ years after that incident. Your lawyer will want specific contact information for the witness so they can take a statement, get it in writing and have the witness sign it. During litigation, your lawyer can use this signed statement to refresh the witness’ memory when they testify. The more contact information and description about the witness, the better. Only obtaining the first or last name is not enough. If you only obtain the witness’ first or last name, it may be impossible to locate them to testify. Some witnesses may have to be subpoenaed to come testify, so this contact information will ensure that they can be served and compelled to appear in the future at a deposition or in court. In summary, you would want as much of the following information as possible from an eyewitness:
- First and last name
- Home phone number
- Cell phone number
- Home address
- E-mail address
- Physical description (in case they need to be subpoenaed in the future)
Another great source for notice of a problem on a property are the employees who work there. Employees can be the first people to respond to an injured person. Sometimes those employees may make an offhand comment that shows that the store was aware of the problem before the fall. Clients in the past have had employees tell them things like:
- “That has been happening a lot lately.”
- “We have been meaning to clean that up.”
- “We have not gotten around to fixing that.”
- “We really should put a warning sign up.”
If an employee says something like this to you, get their first and last name and job position immediately. Similar to eyewitnesses, these employees may not have to testify until 2–3+ years after your fall. During that time, the employee may have changed jobs or moved out of the area entirely. If that employee is no longer with the company, the company does not have to voluntarily produce that former employee as a witness. In that situation, your lawyer may have to locate and subpoena the ex-employee just like any other eyewitness.
Alternatively, there may be employees who do not help or talk to you after you fall. We have had cases where employees have seen our clients fall and have laughed, pointed or joked to one another about our client. These employees’ names and positions are just as important because their behavior shows a failure of the company to follow their own policies and procedures, as well as displays a lack of basic human decency. When jurors hear stories like that in court, it can help drive their verdicts.
Lastly, do not leave without talking to a manager-on-duty (MOD). These are usually the last company employees that will speak with you before you leave. If you cannot speak with all the employees discussed above, then the MOD should provide that information, as well as their own contact information, so you can make a proper insurance claim. In summary, when dealing with company or store employees and managers, you should gather the following information:
- First and last name
- Job title
- Physical description (in case they need to be subpoenaed in the future)
Potential clients will often discuss how after they fell, they talked to one or two people and then left the scene to go seek medical attention. Your health and safety should always come before gathering evidence and talking to witnesses. However, if you can talk to employees and managers on the scene, then you should obtain a copy of the written report or a report/incident number. If you do not have this information, then your case is not starting off on the right foot.
Companies should have policies and procedures in place where they create reports after injuries occur on their property. These procedures are in place so that the company can notify their insurance company and handle the claim. These reports should list some combination of the date and time of the incident, a description of the incident, your name, witness name(s), employee name(s), manager name(s) and an incident or reference number. This is basic information that will help prove that you were at the site when you were injured and that you took the appropriate steps to notify the company. If the report is not immediately available and there is no reference number yet, you should also ask for the contact information for the store’s insurance claims representative. You can even call that representative while you are on site.
Occasionally, a manager may offer some incentive or giveaway to you as an “apology” for falling at the store or restaurant. These incentives could include a coupon or discount for a free meal or a free drink. While it is generally okay to accept these, they can really be meant to distract you from getting the right information and making a written report with the company. Remember to avoid these distractions and make a proper report. If you are injured, a $20 free meal will not make up for a life-changing injury.
4. Photographs and Video
Pictures and video can be the most credible forms of evidence because, while the plaintiff and defendant may tell their own version of the incident, the pictures and video speak for themselves. A verbal description of a hole, a puddle, a spill or a defect is never as accurate as photographs or video showing the actual problem. With all that in mind, if you leave the scene of your fall without taking your own photographs or video, it can be a major detriment to your own case. In a time where nearly everyone has a cell phone with a camera and video capabilities, leaving the scene of a fall without taking photographs is inexcusable.
The property owner’s initial response will be to clean a spill, fix the defect or put down a warning sign. If that happens and you do not have pictures that show the conditions at the time of the fall, then it becomes your word vs. the owner’s word. Furthermore, evidence that the owner fixed the defect or cleaned the spill is not admissible evidence at a trial. This is because courts want to encourage property owners to fix defects before another guest or customer is hurt. It is best to photograph or record the scene before any corrections are made.
Aside from not taking pictures at all, a common mistake is taking photographs that are blurry or so close-up that they are incomprehensible. A good photograph is one that you could show anyone on the street and they would immediately know what they were looking at. You should take as many pictures as you can from as many angles as you can. You can place a common object down next to the spill or defect to demonstrate its scale and size (e.g a shoe, a dollar bill, a pen, etc.). Take photographs and video from a 360° view from different distances. The more pictures, the better, because you and your lawyer can always choose which ones to present in court.
Many stores and restaurants will have security cameras inside and outside the store. If you have fallen, you should ask the manager to preserve the security video as soon as possible, and you should put that request in any written report. Since the cameras run for hours at time, owners will usually choose to record over old footage rather than preserve old footage where no incident occurred. Lawyers can send letters asking companies to preserve this information for court. However, if weeks or months have gone by since the fall, the footage may have already been erased. That is why taking your own videos and photographs is just as important as obtaining the store’s own camera footage.
Tl;dr (too long, didn’t read): Tips for Gathering the Right Info After You Fall
Falls can obviously result in severe injuries. Many commercial properties have insurance policies to cover injuries that occur on site. However, those insurance companies are not always eager or willing to pay claims related to those falls. More likely than not, an injured person will have to pursue a lawsuit to be fully compensated for their injuries after a fall. A good premises liability case begins with witnesses, employees, reports and photographs.
At ChasenBoscolo, we are not afraid to go to battle with an insurance company in court, but we have to have the right amount of ammunition to win. We have certainly pursued premises liability cases in the past with only some of the evidence listed above. Additionally, we can obtain witness names, employee and manager names, reports, photographs and much more during a lawsuit. However, the best time to gather this information will always be on site immediately after the fall. It ensures that visual evidence is preserved for the future and begins the process of making an airtight injury claim.