Many people think that simply because they got hurt on someone else's property, the property owner's insurance will cover any personal injury claim they decide to make. That's not always correct. As in almost any personal injury case, there must be some measure of fault (usually that means negligence) in order for the claim to be successful. Read on to learn more about how to make a successful slip-and-fall claim, including:
We'll also discuss when you should consider consulting with an attorney who can help you with your claim.
If you've been injured in a fall at someone's home, you may be wondering how to get started with seeking compensation. You can begin by asking three key questions:
Let's look at each of these questions in detail.
Under the legal theory of premises liability, a homeowner is usually only liable for an accident if their negligence was a cause of what happened. The homeowner isn't automatically negligent just because you fell on their property. It's not even enough to show that your injury was caused by an unsafe condition on the owner's property. The condition that caused your injury must have been unreasonably unsafe.
So, for example, if you fall because a bannister gives way when you reach out to steady yourself, you might have a good argument that your injury is the result of negligence. But if you trip coming down the stairs because you're looking at your phone, and the bannister gives way when you crash into it, it will be much more difficult to make a case that the homeowner is responsible.
Each state has its own laws covering liability, so make sure you know the specific rules that apply to your situation. For example, states' laws can be different in crucial ways when it comes to liability for an unsafe condition that was "open and obvious."
If you're not sure how the law applies to your accident, it may be helpful to seek advice from an attorney who handles premises liability cases. We'll talk more below about how liability often works in the most common slip-and-fall accident scenarios.
Of course, you can't be compensated through insurance if the homeowner doesn't have any. Most homeowners do carry insurance—both because:
But there's no public record of who does or doesn't have homeowner's insurance, so after an accident the best approach is to ask the property owner for their insurance information.
If the property owner doesn't have insurance, your only options will usually be:
You may also need to deal directly with the homeowner to make up the difference if their insurance doesn't cover the full amount of your injury-related losses (called "damages" in the language of the law).
Sometimes even a homeowner with insurance will be reluctant to tell you they're covered, or won't give you the name of their carrier. That's because some insurance companies will respond to a single claim on the policy by canceling the coverage or greatly increasing the monthly premiums.
If the homeowner tries to avoid involving insurance, you could proceed the same way you would if you knew they were uninsured—by asking them to pay you out of pocket, or letting them know you're ready to go to court. That may motivate them to get their insurance carrier involved.
Figuring out the insurance picture—and your options when dealing with the homeowner—is another area where you may benefit from the help of an experienced attorney.
Two kinds of coverage might come into play with your slip-and-fall claim:
Medical payments coverage. Called medpay for short, this coverage may be available to compensate you for at least some of your medical bills. One helpful thing about medpay is that you can be reimbursed without having to demonstrate that the homeowner is liable for your injuries. As long as you show that you were hurt on the property, medpay will cover the costs of your medical treatment. The compensation process is straightforward—you send your medical bills to the insurance adjuster and will be reimbursed up to the limit of the coverage.
The downside to medpay is that the coverage is usually minimal. Some homeowners pay extra for more coverage. But, in general, you can expect medpay to help with the first few thousand dollars of medical bills, but not to compensate you for the costs of a more significant injury.
Liability coverage. If the homeowner is legally responsible for your accident, then their liability coverage may compensate you more fully than medpay for the damages you've suffered. That includes:
As we discussed above, whether the homeowner is liable can be a complicated question. Next we'll talk about the practical side of getting the insurance company to offer you a fair settlement based on the homeowner's liability.
Your first priority after a slip-and-fall accident should be your health. Make sure you seek any necessary medical care immediately following the incident, and follow the treatment plan suggested by doctors. If you think you may be entitled to compensation from the homeowner's insurance company, take the following additional steps as soon as you can.
It's not exactly polite to start collecting evidence for a slip-and-fall claim when you're a guest in someone else's home. But if you've been injured then it's important to take action to preserve your legal options.
Take photographs as soon as possible after the accident. You should take pictures of the accident scene, your clothes, and any bruises that you might have received. Photographing the scene right after the accident is especially important because the conditions that caused your accident might be temporary. Ice and snow, for example, can melt or be cleared away within minutes. It can be difficult or impossible to win an ice-and-snow case without pictures showing the ice and snow as it was at the moment of your injury.
Write down everything you remember. Your own account of what happened will be important evidence both during the insurance claim process and in any potential lawsuit. So make notes as soon as you can about how the accident happened, what you saw, and anything anyone said (before or after your fall) that seems like it might be important. The sooner after the accident you make these kinds of notes, the more credibility they'll have with insurance adjusters and—if your case winds up in court—judges and jurors.
Gather information from witnesses. Ask other people who were at the scene of the accident about what they saw and heard. You may be able to do that immediately. If that's not possible, you should at least do your best to gather people's names and contact information so you can follow up later. Get as much detail as you can in writing—either by taking your own notes, or by having witnesses write down or email you what they remember.
Be thorough. Be sure to talk to anyone who may have seen the unsafe condition, not just to people who saw your fall. For example, maybe you were outside by yourself when you slipped on your neighbor's front path. If guests who arrived before you remember telling the homeowner that they almost slipped on the dark and icy pavement, that's important evidence in support of your claim. You should also ask the homeowner—and maybe the owners of neighboring properties—if they have doorbell or surveillance cameras that may have recorded your fall.
Learn more about proving fault in a slip-and-fall case and when to talk to a lawyer after a slip-and-fall accident.
If and when the homeowner provides you with their insurance information, you should report your claim to the company as soon as possible.
Make sure you:
If you've already finished all medical treatment when you send the report, you can tell the company that you'll be following up with a settlement demand as soon as possible. If you're still receiving treatment, tell the insurer that you will follow up once your treating doctor tells you that you've reached "maximum medical improvement" (MMI). MMI is the point at which you've either fully recovered, or have recovered as much as you're going to.
The adjuster will have a lot of questions for you, but remember that they are not a neutral fact-finder. They work for the insurance company, and their goal is to limit the amount of money the company might have to pay under their contract with the homeowner. That means:
You can let the adjuster know that you'll be providing all of the relevant information and records with your settlement demand.
When you've reached MMI (or if you need to move the process forward because of the statute of limitations on your claim), you should send a settlement demand letter to the insurance company. The demand letter is your opportunity to describe your fall, the nature and extent of your injuries, and the damages you've suffered. Your damages include:
To support your settlement demand, you should attach copies of records showing your financial losses—medical bills, medical records, written statements from your employer, and anything else that provides concrete evidence of the money you've spent or lost because of the accident. You can draw from the notes you've made about your injuries and how they've impacted your life.
As this description suggests, a settlement demand letter is very fact-based and relies heavily on documentation. You should make sure to prepare for this from the beginning by saving all of the relevant records (and by requesting them from any provider that doesn't automatically send you copies). You should also be as thorough as possible in taking and saving your own notes.
Your demand letter will probably lead to a negotiation between you and the insurer. The company will be looking for ways to argue that you're entitled to less than what you asked for, and will expect that you began by demanding more money than you expect to eventually receive. That means your initial demand should be as high as you can reasonably justify—you can wait for the insurance company's response before deciding if reducing your demand makes sense.
When you're considering whether to hire a lawyer to assist with your slip-and-fall claim, it's helpful to distinguish between the insurance claims process and the legal process.
As we've discussed, the claims process is essentially a negotiation between you and the homeowner's insurance company. If you have severe injuries, high medical bills, and other serious economic damages, it may make sense to hire an attorney to assist with your claim. On the other hand, if you feel up to it physically and think your claim is pretty straightforward, you may feel comfortable handling it yourself.
But if you can't reach an agreement with the insurance company, and are considering filing a lawsuit, then you should seriously consider hiring an attorney to represent you. The rules and procedures of a civil lawsuit are complex. An attorney who specializes in taking cases to court—especially premises liability cases—should be able to navigate the process and work with you to present your best case.
A good lawyer will also be able to advise you on what kind of settlement offer you should be aiming for. The value of your slip-and-fall claim depends on factors including the extent of your injuries, you damages you've suffered, and whether you're partially responsible for the accident. Evaluating all of those factors could be daunting for a layperson. So you may benefit from the expertise of an attorney who handles premises liability cases for a living.
You should also bear in mind that unlike in the claims process—where you're entitled to refuse the insurance company's request for a recorded statement—in a civil lawsuit you'll be required to answer questions under oath and on the record. A lawyer can help you prepare for that deposition, and assist with other aspects of the discovery process.
If you've been injured in a fall at someone's residence and aren't sure how to proceed, you can read more about slip-and-fall claims and premises liability. You can also use the features on this page to connect with a personal injury attorney and discuss your situation in more detail.