by Margarita Gutierrez, Attorney at Law
April 8, 2008
If you slip and fall in a supermarket, the first thing to do is to get up carefully. Better yet, pull yourself together on the floor before you get up. What you do in the next few hours could make a difference in your chance of getting compensation from the supermarket for any injury.
Did anyone else see you fall? If so, get their name and phone number. Unless you were walking around with a camcorder on your head, this is the most effective way of proving that you slipped and fell. An independent witness can make or break your claim. Make sure the witness noticed what caused your fall, whether it was something on the floor, a tear in the linoleum or dark lighting that made it difficult for you to see.
Speak to the supermarket manager. Make sure you get the manager's name and phone number because he or she is an important witness, even if he or she didn't see you fall. Think carefully about what you say because the manager is likely to write it down in a report of the incident. Be honest about what happened, but keep it simple. The manager will probably send someone to clean up what caused your fall; make sure someone else saw the condition that caused your fall and will remember that the supermarket sent someone to clean it up or fix it. Also get the name of the person sent to clean the floor or fix what caused your fall.
See a doctor as soon as possible. Sometimes that's just not possible, or you feel OK and a couple of hours go by before you realize how lousy you really feel. Just remember that if you wait a few hours, someday you may have to explain why you waited. When you see your doctor, he or she probably will ask how the accident happened. Think about what you told the supermarket manager. Keep it simple and talk about where it hurts.
Get as much in writing as you can. If the doctor wants you to stay home and rest, get a doctor's note. Even if you have the best boss in the world, still get a doctor's note. A handwritten note from your doctor will come in handy a year later when you are sitting down with the supermarket to settle your claim. In the end, you are the one who has to prove the accident happened and how you were hurt, and no one is just going to take your word for it. If you take off time from work and don't get a record showing you took sick time or medical leave, get that information in writing from your employer at the time you take off from work.
What type of damages are you entitled to? You will want to recover for your costs and other damages resulting from the fall. Damages fall into two categories: special and general.
Special damages compensate for quantifiable monetary losses and include:
General damages compensate for non-monetary aspects of your injury and include:
After your injuries have healed, you can file a lawsuit or resolve the case yourself by sending a letter to the supermarket stating what happened, including copies of your bills and giving a deadline for them to make you an offer. The supermarket may settle your claim and pay based on your excellent documentation and straightforward demand.
What if that doesn't work? In some states, you have only one year to file a lawsuit against the supermarket. Numerous websites provide information on the statutes of limitation in each state; however, always make sure such information is current. To be absolutely certain of the limitation period, your best course of action is to consult with an attorney licensed in the jurisdiction.
Margarita Gutierrez is an attorney based in San Francisco. Her areas of practice include personal injury litigation, public law and communications law.