What to Do After a Trip and Fall Accident Caused by a Building or Design Defect?

Woman experiencing a trip and fall accident

Aside from slip and fall accidents, trip and fall accidents caused by design defects or code violations are some of the most common non-motor vehicle crash injury claims. When climbing a flight of stairs that weren’t built according to code or stepping down from a hidden ledge, trip and falls can result in serious injuries, leaving you in constant pain, causing you to miss work, and result in significant medical bills. These things can become overwhelming quickly. So, what should you do after experiencing a trip and fall accident? Read on for more information and call Carey Leisure Carney for a free consult today!

What are the Most Common Causes of Trip and Fall Accidents?

Trip and fall accidents can happen for a number of reasons. In Florida, one of the most common causes of trip and falls is overgrowth of tree roots. The roots themselves can frequently cause a tripping hazard, or they can grow up through pavement, causing cracking in sidewalks or pavement. Some other common hazards include:

  • Improper or unmaintained mats or rugs whose edges curl up
  • Improper placement of merchandise or other items in a store
  • Merchandise or displays that have fallen over
  • Uneven surfaces
  • Improperly secured wires or cords
  • Raised sidewalks or roadways
  • Cracks in a sidewalk or roadway from settling land
  • Rubble on the ground

This list is not exhaustive, so feel free to consult an attorney regarding your specific situation.

What About When Businesses Do Not Follow Building Codes?

Another major class of tripping hazards are structures that are not built according to the local building codes or ordinances provided by the County or City. One such threat is stairways that are not built to code, causing anyone who climbs the stairs to misstep and lose balance in anticipation of a normal rise and run (height and width) for stairs. A related cause of falls are stair railings that are not properly secured to buildings that pull away from the wall and throw the person using the railing off balance.

Another violation of building codes occurs when steps are painted the same color as the surface below the step, causing an optical illusion that makes it look like there is no step. This illusion is particularly powerful around 12:00 pm, when the step will not cast any shadow on the ground below. Such conditions can cause unwitting visitors to the premises to step without preparing themselves for a step down, which can result in serious and unexpected injuries, including injury of the Achilles tendon.

Certain violations of building codes or ADA requirements are considered negligence per se in Florida, which means that they create a rebuttable presumption that the property breached their duty of care to patrons by building a structure that is not code compliant. In these cases, unless the company can provide a valid reason for deviating from the required building codes, the company will likely be found liable for injuries caused by these deviations.

How Do I Know If the Cause of My Trip and Fall Was a Code Violation?

After a fall that you suspect was caused by a building code violation, the best way to determine if this is the case is to hire an expert. An expert will be aware of all code requirements that are mandatory for a certain property and will be able to take accurate measurements to determine if the surface you tripped over constituted a violation. They will also help you preserve evidence of the violations by taking numerous photographs of the scene with measurements. This will help you build a strong case.

So, What Should I Do After a Trip and Fall Accident?

After the Florida legislature enacted HB 837 last March, it shifted our tort liability system from comparative fault to contributory negligence. What this means is that if a Plaintiff is found by a jury to be more than 50% at fault for their own injuries, they cannot recover any damages for their accident. This new law makes premises liability cases more difficult to pursue because although there may be a design defect in the premises, people have a duty to take ordinary care to avoid injuries to their person. Because of the heightened standard that has resulted from the change in laws, there are several things that you can do to help preserve your potential claim.

  1. Report your fall formally. Whether you fell at an apartment complex, in a parking lot, or on a public sidewalk, you must make a formal report of your trip and fall accident to keep a trail of documentation. Report the fall to management of the location where you fell or call the authorities. The local police or fire department are required to keep records of all emergencies they respond to and will have the report on file if you need to request it.
  2. Seek medical attention immediately. After a serious trip and fall accident, it is important to seek medical attention right away, as sudden trauma to the body can cause a number of injuries. While strains or tears in ligaments tend to be more common results of trip and fall accidents, it is not uncommon to break a bone or experience trauma to the brain. Seeking immediate medical attention will make sure your injuries do not get worse over time while preserving the paper trail for your trip and fall accident should you wish to make a claim.
  3. Talk to anyone who witnessed your fall and get their contact information. If there were eyewitnesses at the scene, their testimony will be crucial to your trip and fall case should it need to go to trial. The issue with many premises liability code violations is that once the violation causes a serious injury and is brought to the premises owner’s attention, the owner will correct the condition. Having testimony from witnesses who saw the state of the property at the time of your fall is essential to proving your case.
  4. Photograph the condition that caused you to fall extensively. For the same reason it is important to gather witness contact information, it is essential to photograph the area where your trip and fall accident occurred extensively. If the premises owner happens to fix the condition which caused your fall, without photographic evidence your case will be very hard to prove. If you are claiming a design defect in a stairway, ramp or curb, it is important to take pictures with a ruler to show the dimensions of the surface you tripped over so the violation is captured in the photograph. If you involve an attorney in your claim, they will be able to hire an expert who will photograph the scene extensively and provide measurements for all surfaces.
  5. Keep notes on what happened and how it affects you as you heal. It is important to keep detailed notes and impressions about what happened after your trip and fall accident so details remain fresh. Write down the exact location (including address or intersection) where the fall occurred, a description of what happened, any statements made by people you reported the incident to, and the issue or design defect you believe caused your fall. Keeping ongoing records of any treatment sought or communications you receive from the premises will help preserve the timeline of events for your claim. Be sure to include a description of how your injuries have affected your life, including any work you had to miss because of your accident or any activities which you are no longer able to do after your accident.
  6. Keep a file to save documentation from your trip and fall accident. We all lead busy lives, and it is a common occurrence that papers and other documentation can get lost in the shuffle. Saving all documentation, photographs, medical bills, and receipts for medication in one place will help preserve your claim and give you the peace of mind that everything you need is in one place.
  7. Be wary when talking to insurance companies. After reporting your trip and fall accident, the premises owner will likely provide your contact information to their insurance company. Insurance adjusters are trained to pay out as little as possible for potential claims and will attempt to minimize your situation. Do not agree to sign any documentation or releases before seeking legal advice, as this could potentially release the other party from liability for your trip and fall accident.
  8. Do not post about your trip and fall accident on social media. Social media is everywhere these days, and it can be tempting to share information about your trip and fall accident with friends and family. This is the worst thing you can do, as anything you post on social media may be discoverable in court. Avoiding social media altogether is often the best plan in a situation where you intend to seek legal advice.

After a trip and fall accident, time is not your friend. Waiting too long to preserve a claim may cause essential evidence to be lost. Particularly if you believe you fell as a result of a design defect or code violation, the time to act is now. Call an experienced attorney who understands what you need to do to maximize your claim after a trip and fall accident. At Carey Leisure Carney, our attorneys have represented victims of trip and fall accidents in the State of Florida for over forty years. If you have recently been involved in a trip and fall accident and believe it was caused by a design defect or code violation, call Carey Leisure Carney today for a free consult!