Suffering a Personal Injury from a Slip & Fall
Even the most common, everyday activities we all engage in may lead to accidents causing injuries that can drastically change our lives. Picking up groceries, exercising in our local gym, simply carrying out our duties at work, or even just walking down the street can end up leaving us injured. Slip, trip, and fall incidents are some of the most common types of accidents that take place daily in the U.S. They range from slipping on a wet supermarket floor or an icy car park to falling off stairs or escalators, often because of loose or broken handrails, or tripping and falling on an uneven sidewalk or over a pothole.
No matter how you came to experience a slip-and-fall accident, the outcome is the same: you end up falling, either from ground level or from a height, and injure yourself, perhaps even severely. While the classic comedic slipping on a banana peel may seem funny in a movie, the reality of such accidents can be very onerous, indeed.
Slip, trip, and fall incidents account for 15% of all accidental deaths in the United States—a cause second only to motor vehicle crashes.
Thus, it must be noted that, most tragically, death cannot be dismissed as a possible outcome of slip-and-fall accidents, with such cases mainly being addressed by the filing of a wrongful death action.
If you have recently been the victim of a slip-and-fall accident that has left you injured, you may wish to consider receiving professional advice on the possibility of filing a lawsuit with the aim of recovering compensation for economic, but possibly also non-economic loss you have suffered as a result.
Common Types of Slips and Falls:
- Defective Handrail
- Snow/Ice Fall
- Malfunctioning Doors
- Wheelchair Ramp Hazards
- Escalator and Elevator Accidents
- Unsafe Store Displays
Impact of Slip & Fall Injuries
Injuries resulting from slip-and-falls range from superficial cuts, bruises, and lacerations, to hurting your back or hip, sustaining knee damage, ending up with broken bones—or, worse, being left with spine and nerve damage or suffering a traumatic brain injury, with everything that each of these may entail for your life. Such accidents can leave you impaired for months, or even years, adversely affecting all kinds of daily activities.
At the same time, they often lead to spiraling medical bills and other connected expenses, not to mention requiring that you be out of work for months or even years, in addition to the devastating emotional effects they may have on you and your loved ones. The time it takes to recover from a slip and fall can vary greatly between cases, but regardless if you are hurt for 4 months, 2 years, or the rest of your life, slip & fall injuries must be taken seriously with treatment from a medical professional.
Slip-and-falls are also the primary cause of days missed from work. Each year, they account for more than one million emergency room visits, making up for a whopping amount of approximately $70 billion awarded annually for compensation and medical costs for employee slip-and-fall-related incidents.
Slip-and-Fall Lawsuits: The Basics
Slip-and-fall lawsuits are a type of personal injury case occurring when a person falls to the ground because of another person’s wrongdoing and suffers injury. They are based on Colorado premises liability law and are subject to the Colorado Premises Liability Act, referred to as the PLA (Title 13 of the Colorado Revised Statutes). The PLA sets forth certain legal statuses, as well as accompanying standards of care associated with each of them, and different requirements to prove a claim for damages.
Plaintiff Classification – Legal Statuses
Pursuant to Colorado premises liability laws, a person who is injured while being on the property of another falls into one of three categories (legal statuses) connected to the reason why they found themselves on said property in the first place.
The three legal statuses relevant to premises liability cases are:
- Trespassers: people who enter or remain on the property of another without the property owner’s consent.
- Licensees: most commonly social guests (such as dinner guests at another person’s home) but, generally, those entering or remaining on a property with the permission of the property owner.
- Invitees: usually customers or tenants. For example, if you are shopping at a grocery store, having a coffee at your local cafe, or renting an apartment, you are an invitee of the respective business and property owners.
Each has its own detailed definition under the PLA, which also sets out the corresponding types of recovery available. Generally speaking, property owners owe invitees the highest level of duty of care. Therefore, invitees commonly have better chances of receiving compensation for a premises liability claim. Conversely, a trespasser may recover only for damages willfully or deliberately caused by the landowner. As for licensees, property owners owe them a limited duty of care, making cases relating to these two statuses more challenging to prove legally.
The language adopted in the PLA effectuates the legitimate governmental interests of promoting a state policy of responsibility by both property owners and those on it, as well as to assure that the ability of an injured party to recover is correlated with their status as a trespasser, licensee, or invitee. To this end, the law imposes a higher standard of care on landowners with respect to an invitee than a licensee, and a higher standard of care with respect to a licensee than a trespasser. Consequently, invitees and licensees may be entitled to receive compensation for a premises liability accident, especially if they were on the property for a business purpose.
Duty of Care, Breach, Causation, and Ensuing Harm
It must become clear from the outset that not all slip-and-fall accidents may give rise to a (successful) lawsuit. For an accident that causes injury to be appropriate for a lawsuit, you must show that the defendant(s) acted negligently (or intentionally, as the case may be with trespassers) and prove that all of the components of negligence were in place—that is duty, breach, causation, and damages/harm. Only then may you recover damages.
More specifically, if you are a plaintiff in a slip-and-fall lawsuit, you will need to prove that:
- The person(s) being sued owed you a duty of care, based on your aforementioned legal status. Note that, as a trespasser, you are only owed a duty of care when intentional harm is at hand.
- They breached that duty of care.
- Said breach on the part of the defendant(s) was what caused your injury; and
- you sustained injuries that can be quantified in monetary damages.
As mentioned earlier, the standards of care owed to each plaintiff status are set out by the PLA. In broad strokes, trespassers will only be granted compensation for damages willfully or deliberately caused by the property owner. On the other hand, licensees may recover for damages caused by the property owner’s failure to use reasonable care concerning dangers they knew about, or unreasonable failure to warn of dangers they did not create and are not ordinarily present on the property. Lastly, invitees may be compensated for damages caused by a landowner’s failure to use reasonable care to protect against dangers they actually knew about or should have known about.
To determine the second requirement, i.e. whether the defendant(s) breached said duty of care, the jury will apply the so-called “reasonably prudent person” standard, by considering whether a reasonable person of ordinary prudence would have acted in the same way under the same circumstances. In other words, a person will be found to have acted negligently if they have departed from the conduct anticipated by a reasonably prudent person, essentially meaning an individual who uses good judgment or common sense in handling practical matters, acting in similar circumstances.
Establishing causation, meaning that the breach of duty of care in question is what actually caused the injury, is another crucial legal requirement that has to be fulfilled. To establish that the breach of the duty of care owed was the legal cause of your injury, you will need to prove that there was a close connection between the defendant’s conduct and the resulting injury that you sustained. It is not necessary to prove that the defendant directly caused your injury by committing an action to be held liable: if it can be shown that inaction on the part of the property owner, most commonly their failure to create a safe environment, is what caused the injury, they may also be found responsible for your injury.
It goes without saying that you will need to document and prove the nature, extent, and impact of the physical injury you suffered as a result of your fall, based on solid evidence. To this end, it is important to keep all relevant medical paperwork as organized and easily accessible as possible.
As hard as it may be to act calmly and purposefully after an accident, it is vital to do everything you can to preserve the accident scene: slip-and-fall cases are, by their very nature, difficult to prove. They often involve highly demanding investigation and meticulous collection of evidence—and evidence fades. Therefore, if you are able to do so, do photograph the scene and any damage you have sustained—capture that spill on the grocery store floor, the loose rugs, inadequately lighting or the icy parking lot that led to your fall, as well as your bruises, lacerations, bleeding, and any other visible injuries that you sustained.
The requirements for building a successful slip-and-fall claim are numerous and the evidence that needs to be collected and presented is extensive and often hard to obtain. An experienced personal injury attorney can help you navigate these challenges and offer you thorough advice regarding which steps you will need to take in order to achieve the best possible outcome.
Recovering Damages in Slip-and-Fall Cases
Types and Amount of Damages Available
Depending on the distinct circumstances of your slip-and-fall accident, you may be able to recover economic as well as non-economic damages associated with the injuries you sustained due to the defendant’s breach of duty of care toward you:
- Economic damages, which are normally easier to calculate in actual dollar amounts, relate to your specific damages. They mainly concern medical and rehabilitation bills as well as loss of income, including future wages.
- Non-economic damages refer to compensation for subjective, non-monetary losses. These usually include pain, suffering, inconvenience, emotional distress, loss of society and companionship, loss of consortium, and loss of enjoyment of life. Clearly, this type of damages is harder to quantify, and a number of factors will be taken into account when it comes to assessing the value of the amount to be awarded.
Although it is quite uncommon, it is nonetheless possible to be awarded punitive damages in a slip-and-fall case. As punitive damages are meant to punish liable parties and deter them from repeating the conduct or wrongdoing that led to an injury, they are generally ordered only when there is particularly egregious behavior on the part of the defendant, typically in instances involving intentional harm or extreme recklessness.
The amount that can be recovered for certain types of claims and actions is limited by virtue of damage caps under the applicable State laws of Colorado, and are often adjusted for inflation. Examples of such limitations that are effective in Colorado pursuant to the PLA, as of March 2022, include the following:
- $642,180 cap adjusted for inflation for non-economic damages. However, the court may increase this to $1,284,370 provided there is clear and convincing evidence to justify the increase.
- $642,180 cap for wrongful death-related non-economic loss or injury, except in cases of felonious killing.
- For accidents under the Ski Safety Act, total damages are not to exceed one million dollars, with a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages, adjusted for inflation.
- For medical malpractice claims, total damages are not to exceed one million dollars, with a $250,000 cap on non-economic damages.
- Punitive damages, where applicable, are not to exceed an amount equal to actual damages awarded.
An important point that must be made with regard to recovery of damages for slip-and-fall accidents in Colorado is that our State law uses a modified comparative fault rule in determining how damages are awarded and adjusted. This is based on the principle of comparative negligence, which provides that when an accident occurs, the fault and/or negligence of each party involved is based upon their respective contributions to the accident.
In plain English, the question of whether you had any fault in causing your injury will be taken into consideration when calculating the damages you will be awarded. Consequently, if it is found that your injury was partially due to inattention, poor decision-making, or illegal activity on your part, your damages may be reduced by your percentage of fault.
In accordance with the provisions of the PLA, you may still receive compensation from the person or entity responsible for your accident and resulting injury even if a jury finds that you were partly to blame for your slip-and-fall. Nevertheless, any award ordered by the court will be reduced. Indeed, the PLA also stipulates that you effectively lose the case if you are found to be 50% or more responsible for causing the incident leading to your slip-and-fall, and may not recover any compensation at all from the co-negligent party.
In practical terms, if you suffer a slip-and-fall and are awarded $50,000 in economic damages plus another $50,000 for pain and suffering and other non-economic loss by the jury, but it is also determined that you were 30% at fault for your injury because you were “walking distracted,” for example, your $100,000 award will be reduced by $30,000. Consequently, the final compensation you will receive will be $70,000. Had it been determined that your percentage of liability for the accident came to 51%, you may not have been able to recover any damages whatsoever.
Bearing the above in mind, it is clear that property owners/defendants routinely put forward one of two defenses, namely that:
- They were not negligent in their conduct or
- The accident and ensuing injury were your fault.
In the first instance, property owners attempt to show that they exercised reasonable care and carried all necessary due diligence to keep their property safe for customers, contending that the cause of the injury lay outwith their heir control.
Likewise, defendants will often try to claim that the injured party was actually responsible (or partly responsible) for causing their own accident, relying on the fact that all of us are also required to exercise due care to avoid injuring ourselves: failing to do so means that others should not be held accountable for our own negligence.
Calculation of damages and potential contribution to the accident leading to your injury on your part, as well as rebutting defenses of property owners require knowledge, expertise, and skill in this complicated area of law.
The time limit on your right to have a slip-and-fall lawsuit brought to court is generally two years from the date when the accident leading to your injury occurred. There are, however, two main exceptions to this statute of limitations:
- If a slip-and-fall accident leads to a fatal injury, thus giving rise to a wrongful death claim, a related action may be brought two years from the date of death, which may not be the same as the date of the accident itself.
- In cases where the responsible party is a governmental entity, deadlines are significantly shorter. The clock starts ticking on the date of the accident and you must send the correct governmental entity a notice of claim, meeting a series of somewhat strict requirements, within 180 days of your accident.
Slip-and-fall accidents can end up upending one’s life on many levels and in ways most of us cannot possibly foresee. In view of the many and complex laws and requirements applicable, the pressing time limitations for filing your action, the extensive evidence that needs to be collected, and so on, it is always best to seek professional advice sooner rather than later in order to build a strong case and prepare for refuting any assertions that may be made by the defendant(s).
Contact Legal Help in Colorado
At Legal Help in Colorado, we have extensive experience in all types of slip-and-fall cases and are committed to helping injured people get their lives back to normal after accidents. We will take the time to fully comprehend the circumstances of your injury and its impact on your life, and will work out an effective strategy for protecting your rights and claiming the recovery you deserve. We are well-seasoned in this area of law and set to pursue your claim aggressively, without succumbing to intimidation practices commonly adopted by at-fault parties.
Reach out to us today to schedule an appointment. Initial consultations are free and conducted with absolute confidence. If we take on your case, you can rest assured that our contingency payment policy means that you will not have to worry about being able to afford a skilled lawyer, on top of all other pressing considerations, as we only get paid when we win your case. Contact Legal Help in Colorado online, call us at (720) 743-3682, or visit our offices at 8480 E Orchard Road, STE #2400, Greenwood Village CO 80111 to discuss your case!