One of the most common forms of personal injury claims is the category that revolves around slips, trips and falls compensation for accidents which occur in public places. It is very often the case that a person’s fall and resulting injury is simply an unfortunate accident that can only be blamed on the injured party themselves or on no-one at all. Some such accidents are, however, quite clearly due to the negligence of another party who had a legal duty of care toward the victim.
Determining Negligence in Slips, Trips and Falls Claims
Broadly speaking, a property owner is required to take what can be defined as “reasonable” steps to avoid trips and slips occurring on his or her premises. It is of course impossible to ensure that such accidents will never happen, and the property owner is protected in law against spurious or unjustified claims. Some common examples of when the claim for slips, trips and falls compensation will be disqualified would include:
- If the claimant was in fact trespassing on the relevant property at the time of the accident;
- If the claimant acted in a reckless or dangerous manner causing his own injuries;
- A “reasonable man” would have noticed the dangerous condition and therefore acted to avoid it;
- The owner took normal and reasonable steps to avoid the danger e.g. placing a barrier in front of a temporary danger, complying in full with health and safety laws.
As a general rule, property owners owe a duty of care to maintain their premises in a reasonably clean and safe state. This is true whether the property is publicly or privately owned, and many proprietors will be insured against slips and falls on their property.
Should a property owner, proprietor or other person with a responsibility towards your health and safety fail in their duty of care to maintain their premises in a reasonably clean and safe state, and you sustain an injury in a slip, trip or fall accident as a result of their negligence, you would be eligible to make a claim for slips, trips and falls compensation.
The “Absolute” Duty of Care
There is one exception to the above guidelines for determining negligence in compensation claims for slips, trips and falls; and that is in respect of whether a property owner, a proprietor or even the local council has an “absolute” duty of care.
If, for example, you were shopping in a supermarket, and you slipped and fell on liquid which had just spilled from the shopper´s trolley immediately in front of you, a court in Ireland would not consider the supermarket liable for your injuries as supermarket employees did not have a “reasonable” opportunity to identify the hazard and remove it.
Similar scenarios in which a defendant would not be found liable for your injuries would be if you fell in the street due to tripping on a raised paving stone which had only just lifted up due to recent wet weather, if you were to slip on ice which had materialised unexpectedly in a store car park during late-night shopping or if you were to slip on an item of food which had recently been dropped from a diner´s plate in a restaurant.
There are ways in which it can be established whether or not the potentially liable party for your injuries could have prevented your accident and injury by acting within a reasonable period of time. As these vary according to each scenario, if you have sustained an injury in a place of public access which you believe could have been prevented with greater care, you should discuss the circumstances of your accident with a solicitor at the first possible opportunity to determine if you have a claim for slips, trips and falls compensation which it is worth your while to pursue.
Procedures to Follow after a Slip, Trip or Fall
Whether you sustain an injury in a slip, trip and fall accident as a pedestrian in the street or as a shop assistant in a supermarket, the most important procedure to follow after such an accident is to take care of your health. If you have sustained serious injuries, an ambulance should have been summoned. If you were able get to a hospital or your GP surgery without risk of making the injury any worse, then that should have been your first course of action.
Collecting evidence of negligence should have waited in these circumstances, as no amount of compensation for slipping, tripping and falling can ever make up for a lifelong disability which could have been prevented with immediate medical attention. Furthermore, if you did indeed exacerbate the severity of your injury by failing to seek immediate medical attention, you will be considered to have contributed to the extent of your injury, and this may affect how much compensation for slips, trips and falls you are likely to receive.
When you attended a hospital or doctor´s surgery, a record would have been made in your medical history pertaining to the nature of your injuries and how they were caused. This record will be used by your solicitor to support a claim for slipping, tripping or falling; however, if you relied on first aid at the scene of your accident, or administered to your injuries when you returned home, no official record of your injuries from slipping, tripped or falling will exist and it may be very difficult for you to proceed with an injury claim for slips, trips and falls compensation.
Have Slips, Trips and Falls Recorded in the Accident Report Book
When a slip, trip or fall occurs at work, in a shop, a restaurant or another place of business it should be noted that the proprietor should normally keep an accident report book on the premises. You should ask that details of the accident are recorded immediately if you have not done so already. In certain categories of slips, trips and falls accidents, the person responsible for maintaining the accident report book may be obligated to report your accident to the Health and Safety Authority (HSA).
Should the HSA subsequently investigate the cause of your accident, and find that the owner or proprietor of the premises has been negligent by breaching their duty of care, their report will significantly strengthen your injury claim for slipping, tripping or falling. In normal circumstances your solicitor will later request copies of the accident report book together with CCTV footage of the incident (if applicable) which will be used as evidence to support your case.
Should the business in question fail to keep an accident report book on the premises this is not necessarily damaging to your case, as a court may feel that this reflects a general atmosphere of negligence on their part. The important thing is that you ask that the accident be recorded.
Make Use of Your Phone’s Camera
It may seem obvious but given the shock and upset that we can feel after even a minor accident, many of us often forget that we have a camera in our pocket. It is of course a good idea to use the camera and/or video function present on most modern cell phones to record images of the scene following the accident be it at work, in a shop etc. to show precisely what we tripped or slipped on.
If possible try not to discuss liability for the accident at the scene. Although it is not always easy, given the natural upset and perhaps anger that we may feel when hurt due to the negligence of another, one should remain polite and ask that the details be recorded in the accident report book without admitting any responsibility for the accident.
Depending on the nature of your injuries, you might also be able to collect details of other people at the scene of your accident who witnessed the incident. Potential witnesses who could support your claim for slipping, tripping or falling might also include shop or restaurant staff, other shoppers in a store or supermarket, or local residents if you wish to claim compensation for slipping, tripping and falling in the street.
Making a Claim for a Slip, Trip or Fall Accident
Claims for slip, trip or fall accidents should be made in the first instance to the Injuries Board Ireland. A solicitor should assist you with the completion and submission of the application for assessment (Form A) as, irrespective of whether you are completing the hard copy of the form or submitting your application for assessment online, there is the risk that somebody unfamiliar with the process may omit an important element which affects how much compensation for a slip, trip or fall your application is assessed for.
Once the Injuries Board Ireland has received your application for assessment, supporting documents and payment, it will then contact the person(s) responsible for your injury and seek their consent to continue with the assessment of your claim. It may be necessary at this point for you to undergo a further medical examination in order that the Injuries Board can assess how well (or not) you are recovering from your injuries.
Once the evaluation of your claim is concluded, the Injuries Board will send you and the negligent party a Notice of Assessment which – if both you and the negligent party agree on the amount assessed – will be followed by an Order to Pay. Should either party contest the Assessment for being too high or too low, or consent be denied at the beginning of your assessment, the Injuries Board will issue you with an authorisation to pursue your claim for slips, trips and falls compensation through the courts.
Negotiation, Court Action and Insurance Companies
If you engage a solicitor at the very beginning of the claims process, he or she will also directly approach the insurance company of the party responsible for your injury and attempt to negotiate a settlement of your slips, trips and falls claim while the Injuries Board proceeds with the assessment process. This may result in a full and adequate settlement of slips, trips and falls compensation far sooner than if waiting for the Injuries Board to complete its process – in which case the Injuries Board will be informed, and your application for assessment cancelled.
However, if there is no agreement over how much compensation for slipping, tripping or falling you are entitled to, court action will be necessary. Your solicitor is unable to initiate court action without the authorisation of the Injuries Board, and this is why applications for assessment are submitted to the Injuries Board even when there is a strong likelihood of your claim being settled out-of-court.
With the potential of significant court costs – and the possibility of encountering a judge sympathetic to your situation – many insurance companies are prepared to settle claims for slipping, tripping and falling before court action becomes a necessity; however, you should always be wary of a direct approach made to you soon after you have been injured in a slip, trip or fall accident for which you were not to blame.
Your entry in the negligent party´s accident report book may have alerted the insurance company to your accident and, as insurance companies are keen to cut costs, they may offer you a settlement of compensation – while you are at your most vulnerable – which does not accurately reflect the extent of the injury you sustained and the impact it has had on your quality of life.
No matter how tempting the offer may be – particularly if you are concerned about short-term finances – it should always be referred to your solicitor. Should you inadvertently accept an offer of compensation for slips, trips and falls which is inadequate to cover the cost of your medical treatment or support your family while you are unable to work, you cannot go back to the insurance company and ask for more.
How Much Compensation for Slip, Trip and Fall Injuries
How much compensation for slip, trip and fall injuries you will be entitled to will depend on the nature and extent of your injuries in relation to the Book of Quantum – a publication which lists a comprehensive selection of injuries and allocates them a financial value. This value will be adjusted to account for your age, general standard of health prior to your accident and – in claims for slips, trips and falls in which the injury has resulted in a visible scar – your sex.
You will also be compensated for any deterioration in your quality of life if you are unable to complete everyday activities, participate in leisure pursuits or engage in social events because of your injuries; and be entitled to claim slips, trips and falls compensation for any emotional trauma you may have experienced if your accident was particularly violent.
Any financial costs or losses which are directly attributable to your accident can also be recovered in an injury claim for slipping, tripping or falling and, with so many potential variables, it is understandable that no two claims are likely to be identical, even when the injuries sustained are the same. To ensure you receive your maximum entitlement to compensation for slips, trips and falls, it is in your best interests to discuss your personal situation with a solicitor at the first practical moment.
Slip, Trip and Fall Claims Advice
There are a number of scenarios which have not been included in this page such as slip, trip and fall injuries to children and circumstances where you may have contributed to the cause of your accident by your own lack of care, but were not completely liable. Any query you may have about claiming slips, trips and falls compensation should be asked as soon as possible before evidence of negligence is removed and the memories of witnesses fade.
Most solicitors will offer a free initial assessment of your claim for trips, slips and falls which will include answering any questions you may have. It may also be possible to recover any fees associated with pursuing legal action for a slip, trip or fall injury for which you were not to blame as part of your compensation settlement, and a solicitor will explain these to you when you call.
It is important to note that each case is unique. If you have been unfortunate enough to have suffered an injury in a slip, trip or fall, and feel that you have a potential personal injury claim you are advised to discuss all of the points raised in the preceding article with a solicitor at the earliest opportunity.
Copyright © 2009-2015 Eoin Campbell
About the Author
Eoin P. Campbell is an honours law graduate (LL.B) and qualified solicitor whose primary professional experience is the area of litigation and in particular personal injury claims. Eoin P. Campbell is currently lecturing in law at two universities in Lyon, France.