Slip/Trip and Fall Claims

personal injury attorney Tampa FLThe law governing Slip/Trip accidents has been changed recently. The burden of proof is different now. The law used to be that all the claimant had to show was that an accident had occurred and injuries resulted from the fall. The burden of proof was on the defendant to prove that they were not negligent in failing to correct the problem that caused the fall.

If someone slipped on spilled milk in a grocery store aisle, the store would have to show that the aisle was monitored and inspected at reasonable times throughout the day and the aisle was clean the last time it was inspected. Therefore, the milk must have been spilled shortly before the fall and the store did not have knowledge of the spill until after the fall.

To prove this defense to the claim, the store would have to show that the store had a written policy regarding inspections of the premises and that store employees were diligent and had, in fact, inspected the area of the fall shortly before the fall. Store customers are legally considered Business Invitees and the store is under an obligation to do everything possible to protect the customer from being hurt while shopping in the store.

If the store can prove this defense, then the question of fault becomes a question of fact for the jury to decide. If it is determined that the store could not have known of the spill in time to clean up the mess, then the store is not liable to the customer for his injury and damaged ever though the customer did nothing wrong in causing his injuries.

The new law provides that the claimant must prove that the store should have known of the spill and had time to clean up the spill. The store no longer has to prove it was not at fault in causing the fall. It is now the claimant’s burden to prove the store was at fault. How does the claimant prove the store should have been aware of the spill and cleaned it up before the fall? How would he know how long the spill existed before the fall?

Placing the burden of proof on the claimant to prove the store at fault makes it extremely difficult for the claimant to prevail. It can be done in some cases, depending on the facts that are discovered prior to trial, but many claims are denied because of this new law the folks in Tallahassee passed and the governor signed into law.

Trial of a Personal Injury Claim

Lawyer GavelIf your case does not settle, the next thing that happens is the case will be tried in front of a jury. The first part of a trial is to pick a jury. The court subpoenas a large number of citizens from the county where the trial is held. They will be a jury panel from which your jury will be picked from. The panel will be escorted into the court room and the judge will advise them of the process of selecting a jury and what their duties and obligations are if picked to be on the jury.

Next, the attorneys ask questions of the panel to decide who they want as jurors in the case. This is called Voir Dire examination. It means the prospective juror is sworn to say the truth when questioned to ascertain his competence to serve as a juror. The lawyer who has filed the suit on behalf of the injured party goes first and then the lawyer defending the case goes next in asking questions of the panel. After the lawyers and the court excuse some of the panel for various reasons, those jurors that remain will be sworn in as the jury to try the case.

Next, the attorneys will address the jury and give their Opening Statements. The Plaintiff’s lawyer goes first and then the defense speaks next. The statements are the attorneys versions of the facts and what they believe they will prove to the jury to show that their client should prevail after all of the testimony has been presented to the jury.

Next the Plaintiff’s attorney will call the various witnesses he wants to testify on behalf of his client. After the direct examination of the Plaintiff’ lawyer, the defense lawyer will cross examine the witness. Keep in mind that the Plaintiff always goes first because he has brought the action and he must prove his claim. The defense defends against the claim to show the claim has not been proven. After all of the plaintiff’s witnesses have called and examined, the plaintiff rests his case and then the defense presents all of their witnesses and then the Plaintiff cross examines the defendants witnesses. Once all of the witnesses have testified, the defense rests its case.

Next, the attorneys give their closing statements to the jury as to what they believe the testimony has proved and why they feel the jury should decide in their clients favor. Again, the Plaintiff goes first and then the defense goes next. However, the Plaintiff gets to argue again. This is called Rebuttal.

After the final arguments are completed, the Judge will give the jury the instructions of the court to guide them in their deliberations in deciding the facts of the case. The Judge is responsible for deciding the law that governs the case and the jury’s responsibility is to decide the facts of the case.

After the instructions are given, the jury goes into a separate room to decide the case. They will take with them all of the various exhibits that have been placed in evidence. They will remain secluded until they have reached a verdict based on the law they were given by the court and the sworn testimony of the witnesses. The jury will then return to the court room and render its verdict.

What Happens After Suit is Filed in a Personal Injury Claim?

Scales of justiceOnce suit has been filed, the defendant is served with a summons and a copy of the complaint. They have 20 days to file their answer to the complaint.

Once that occurs, the parties serve interrogatories and request to produce documents pertinent to the issues in the case. Interrogatories are questions to the adverse party that must be answered within 30 days. This is called “DISCOVERY”. The defense wants to know more about you and your claim. They will ask about any prior accidents and injuries, previous law suits, lost income etc. They also want information regarding your past medical care and who has treated you for the injuries you are suing the defendant about. They want information to learn everything they can about your past, your family, your work history and your version of what happened in the accident that brought the suit against their client.

They also will request documents to be supplied to them regarding proof of lost income, tax returns, a copy of all of the medical and surgical records concerning your treatment for your injuries caused by the accident. If you had previous medical care for similar injuries, they will want those records as well. In short, they want to know everything about you and your past that could have anything to do with your claim for damages.

The same is true for your discovery of the defendant’s past including prior accidents, insurance coverage, his version of how the accident happened, any medical issues he might have had that could have played a part in the accident. Also, had he been drinking before the accident, was he on the phone or texting when the accident happened etc. Does he wear glasses when he drives and why? Again, you have the right to also to learn everything about the adverse party that could have played a part in the accident.

Next the attorneys will want to take the discovery depositions of the parties. A deposition is sworn testimony taken outside of the courthouse. Depositions are taken for two primary reasons. One is to learn as much as possible about the opposing party relative to the claim. Also, the attorneys want to see how you handle the questions asked of you and they want to see if a jury will like the deponent and believe him if the case has to tried.

The defense has the right to have a health care provider (ie: a doctor, psychologist, physical therapist etc.) examine the plaintiff regarding his claim of injury from the accident. They also have a right to secure all of plaintiff’s medical records and any other records relevant to the issues of the case.

Also, the attorneys will want to depose any and all witnesses to the accident. The defense also will want to depose the plaintiff’s treating physicians to obtain their opinions concerning the injuries, the cause of them and whether the injuries are temporary or permanent. If permanent, they will want to know about the need for future care, disability, work restrictions etc.

Once the discovery by the parties is completed, the parties are in a position to evaluate the claim and begin settlement discussions. They can also advise the court to have the matter set for trial.