Injuries in grocery stores, department stores, restaurants and other public places have been a source of personal injury claims for over a century. These slip and fall type injury claims have encouraged restaurants and stores to improve the safety featuresbut injuries still happen due to poor upkeep and negligence to ensure the public areas are safe. While plaintiffs have been successful in encouraging businesses to improve safety in some areas, like laying out mats in produce sections, safety has been compromised in other areas to maximize business value in floor space with less safe display formats, such as storing items on high shelving where they can easily fall on customers.
No matter how much stores implement safety protocols and use safety equipment to avoid injuries, management’s failure to adequately follow safety procedures and maintain clean, safe public areas can easily lead to customer injuries. Those slip and fall injuries can be extremely serious, including back, head and neck injuries that can produce permanent and life-long harm.
If you are injured in a store, you will likely find yourself pursued by the store’s insurance company or claims management company looking for you to give them all the evidence they need to defeat your claim. You may not even know the full extent of your injuries before they are asking you for recorded statements and evidence of how minimal your injuries might be. The insurance company is not on your side. The store is not on your side. Their goal is to collect as much evidence as possible to lower the value of your claim and defeat it in a trial if a settlement is not reached. You should not help them harm you further.
The best way to defend your rights and protect your claims is to hire a personal injury attorney to represent you. If you are reading this blog then you are either trying to determine whether you need an attorney or what steps you should be taking right now. You are already making the right decision to question the claims adjuster and taking steps to protect yourself. Although you may not be ready to hire an attorney at this point in time, there are several steps anybody in your position should take immediately following a slip and fall injury in Texas.
1. Do not give the insurance company a recorded statement
Claims adjusters try very hard to get injured parties to give them recorded statements. Typically they will just get you to agree to allow them to record a question and answer session over the phone. The idea seems harmless unless you understand the purpose of the recorded statement. The recorded statement locks in your own words about your injuries. The claims adjuster will ask questions designed to produce answers that sound like you are downplaying your injuries and downplaying the liability of the store where you were injured. This statement will then come back to haunt you every step of the way.
Don’t fall for it.
You have absolutely nothing to gain from giving the claims adjuster a recorded statement. It is doubtful that you have all the information about your injuries or that you know what happened in the store before you were injured. There is no reason to lock yourself in to a statement based on only have part of the important facts.
Claims adjusters are not entitled to a recorded statement. They do not have a “right” to it. It is not required by law to adjust your claims. Just say no to giving them a recorded statement.
2. Obtain medical treatment immediately
If you did not obtain medical treatment immediately after the accident then you need to see your physician now to allow a medical professional to assess any injuries and develop a treatment and pain management plan for you. Sometimes injuries do not become obvious immediately or you may have thought at the time that the injury was not that bad only to later decide the pain or lack of mobility is worse than you initially thought. If this is the case you need to go to your physician as soon as you notice pain or a lack of mobility.
Discuss the timeline from injury to noticing the effects of the injury. It is reasonable and not unusual for pain or a lack of mobility to develop in days after an injury, especially when swelling occurs because the swelling worsens over time until it starts pressing on nerves causing pain or pressing on soft tissue that limits mobility.
The sooner you receive treatment the easier it is to identify the slip and fall injury as the cause of your problem. More importantly, the longer you wait to receive medical care the less it will appear the injury is severe because, as the insurance company will argue, you didn’t think it was bad enough to even see a doctor about it. Do not delay.
3. Follow through on the medical treatment
If you went to a hospital immediately after the injury or later went to obtain medical care then the treating physician has given you instructions on next steps for treatment that may include scripts for medication, rest, therapy, or referrals to specialists. It is extremely important that you follow through with everything your physician has recommended. There are two very good reasons why. First, the physician’s advice is your path to healing physically from the injury. You need to do everything within your power to alleviate the harm caused by the injury.
Failing to follow the physician’s medical advice may result in the injury never healing or worsening. Down the road you may wish you had followed the treatment plan but it may be too late. Second, if you do not follow through on the treatment plan it signals to the insurer that the injury probably wasn’t that bad and it creates a defense to the long term effects of the injury because the insurance company can and will argue that the long term effects of your injury are your fault for failing to follow through on the treatment plan.
4. Preserve as much evidence as you can
Physical evidence may play a role in proving your claims. Keep the clothing you were wearing at the time of the injury (and do not wash them). They may have soaked up liquids or powders on the floor that contributed to your injury. The presence of that material and the volume of the material in the clothing can show severity. If you took pictures at the time of the injury then make sure you keep those. If you didn’t then you may want to return to the store and take pictures as soon as you can to retain evidence of the layout of displays and equipment as they likely were at the time of the injury. Keep all medical bills and receipts you receive.
5. Keep notes about your injury and treatment
Write out as much information as you can about what you remember about your injury. Time and date. Where in the store did it happen? Who might have seen it? Who was around you? What were you doing? Who came to help you? What happened when they arrived. Did you fill out an accident report? Where did you go next? What did you feel after you were injured? What do think caused the injury? Was the floor slippery?
Also keep a journal of each physician you spoke with along with the dates and times. Also keep a journal of your daily effects from the injury. Make notes of where the pain is and whether it got better or worse that day. Same with any limitations on your mobility or range of motion. If you had to miss work for treatment or because you could not perform your job then note the hours you missed each day.
This information is extremely useful. You may not remember important details about the injury even weeks after it happened. Writing it down preserves a record of your impressions of the injury and the physical effects (without the claims adjuster leading you on). It can be very helpful to be able to go back and review those details.
6. Go silent on social media
Social media can be disastrous in litigating a personal injury claim and I often recommend clients immediately cease posting on any social media about anything. Like giving the insurance company a recorded statement, you can’t take back the words or pictures you post. An off-the-cuff statement downplaying your injury or pictures of you doing something physical can provide evidence that your injuries were not as severe as you claim. Even posts that show you are cheerful can have the unintended effect of implying you aren’t in as much pain as you claim.
After all, who could be that happy while in that much pain? That’s what the insurance company’s lawyers will ask. That social media content can come out in a lawsuit. Give your Facebook and Twitter accounts a break at least until you hire a personal injury attorney who can give you more specific guidance on your social media use.
7. Request FMLA leave at work if you need to miss time
This has little to do with your personal injury claim but if you qualify for FMLA leave and you will need to take time off from work due to the injury then you need to protect your job as much as possible by requesting FMLA leave. Better to request the leave and not use it than need it and not have the FMLA protection.
8. Start thinking about hiring a personal injury attorney ASAP
The sooner you hire a personal injury attorney to represent you, the sooner you will have somebody to navigate the insurance company’s tricks and protect your claims from the claims adjuster’s efforts to minimize your claims. Your monetary claims in a slip and fall injury are more than just your medical bills. You are entitled to recovery for lost wages, future medical costs, past pain and suffering, future pain and suffering, long term loss of mobility, disfigurement and future lost earnings if you are no longer able to perform work in your current profession.
Claims adjusters rely on the injured party not knowing about these forms of recovery and not knowing how to properly assess the value of these claims. The claims adjuster will work on minimizing these forms of recovery. At best you will recover for some of your past medical bills. That will not make you whole for your injury. The sooner you obtain professional counsel the less the adjuster will be able to manipulate you.
9. Don’t try to exaggerate your claims
Sometimes people exaggerate the severity of the injury and think the injury is going to be a payday. Your injury is what it is. When you lie about your injury you create a rift between the physical evidence and your version of the facts. That is where the claims adjuster is likely to discover a mismatch.
No matter how perfect you think your exaggeration may be, it isn’t perfect. Claims adjusters deal with these claims on a daily basis as a profession. They tend to suspect many claimants are exaggerating claims so they are always on the lookout for it. Once they find a little exaggeration they will assume everything is an exaggeration. Once the claims adjuster believes your claims include dishonesty it will become difficult to settle. Exposed lies may come back to defeat you at trial. You could end up recovering nothing for the honest extent of your injuries.
10. Don’t talk to the store’s representatives
Sometimes businesses will try to investigate your claims beyond the claims adjuster’s investigation. They may hire private investigators to talk to you. They may have attorneys directly contact you. The business’s managers may try to talk to you. They may ask you to meet with a physician they have hired. They may even try to offer you a cash settlement outright. Do not agree to settle your claims until you have had an opportunity to talk to a personal injury attorney. Definitely do not offer information or any kind of statement to any representative of the business. Just like giving a claims adjuster a recorded statement, your words could come back to haunt you.