By Kellie Clark, Attorney at Hensley Legal Group
When someone hears “personal injury case,” they tend to think of injuries from car crashes, which is certainly true. But personal injury includes another category of cases for which people are entitled to compensation, called premises liability.
Premises liability is the legal concept that if you are injured on someone else’s property because of an unsafe condition or defect, then the property owner is responsible. It is an extremely broad category that includes everything from slip and falls to dog bites, falling objects, and sexual assault.
As I like to say, if it happens outside of a car, our premises liability department will probably handle it
The first thing to figure out if you have been injured on someone else’s property is whether or not you really have a sustainable personal injury case based on premises liability. Just because you were injured on someone else’s property doesn’t mean you automatically have a premises liability case. For one thing, Indiana law only protects people that are invited onto the property, like for business purposes or friendly visitation. It does not protect trespassers or invitees who go where they’re not supposed to, like an “Employees Only” area. You can’t recover damages through premises liability if you are a trespasser.
This practice area is extremely broad – as I like to say, if it didn’t happen in a car, then our premises liability department will probably handle it. Some common premises liability cases include:
- Slip and falls
- Trip and falls
- Dog bites
- Ceiling collapses
- Falling objects
- Fire-related injuries
- Construction site accidents
- Swimming pool accidents
- Elevator and escalator accidents
- Playground accidents
- Negligent security and supervision
- Sexual assaults
- Balcony and/or deck accidents
- Bodily injury caused by assault (under some circumstances)
This is not an exhaustive list by any means, which is why it is always a good idea to contact an attorney after you’ve been injured.
No detail is too small – even the shoes you were wearing at the time can be important
If you think you might have a premises liability case, your first priority is to gather evidence. Take pictures of everything: what object or condition caused you to fall, the fall scene, signs or posters, your injuries, etcetera. The more pictures, the better. If anyone saw the incident, try to get their name and phone number. Witnesses will be important later on. Report the fall if possible by filling out an incident report or talking to management, even if it has to wait until after you get out of the hospital.
Your second priority is to get medical treatment as soon as possible. Do not wait, even if it seems like a minor issue. Report every issue with your doctor. Don’t worry about sounding whiny or grouchy. Medical records will also be important later on in your case, so you should be absolutely truthful and tell your doctor everything about your injury. Follow their treatment plan to the letter.
Preserve any other evidence from the fall. No detail is too small – even the shoes you were wearing at the time can be important. Document everything as soon as you can, in as much detail as you can. I often recommend keeping a journal that can be referenced later.
Avoid giving your statement – especially a recorded statement. Insurance companies can use your own words against you if you don’t stick exactly to your story later on. If you’ve already given a recorded statement, don’t panic, but you should contact an attorney as soon as possible.
The courts will not care that you, a person without a law degree, has never heard of a ‘tort claim’ before. If you miss these deadlines, you will never be able to pursue your claim.
And of course, the most important thing you should do if you think you have a premises liability is to hire an attorney immediately. Evidence is important in every case, but especially in premises liability cases where you must prove that you aren’t at fault. Security footage, business contracts, medical records and eyewitness statements are all part of a strong case. Remember how we said witnesses would be important later? A credible witness could be the difference between winning and losing your case. The sooner you hire an attorney, the sooner we can get evidence together.
In Indiana, most premises liability cases require you to file for a lawsuit within 2 years of the injury occurring. This is called the statute of limitations. But if your case involves a claim against a government entity (as many premises liability cases do), you likely have a tort claim, which has different deadlines.
The courts are very strict about meeting these deadlines and will not care that you, a person without a law degree, has never heard of a “tort claim” before and didn’t know you had to do anything differently. If you miss these deadlines, you will never be able to pursue your claim.
Filing a lawsuit far in advance of the statute of limitations also gives you more time to find potential “non-parties” that have liability, but may not be immediately obvious. It is likely that your case will involve multiple parties. For example, if you fell on an icy sidewalk outside your apartment building, the property owner, the property management company, and snow removal company could all be found responsible for your fall. But without looking at the paperwork, you might miss other parties that also had liability for your fall.
Let’s say that a janitorial company was responsible for clearing ice from the sidewalk, but you didn’t know the property management company had hired them for that service. Filing a lawsuit should give you access to paperwork and other information linking the janitorial company to your case.
And if all of this feels overwhelming, don’t panic! A premises liability lawyer will do the legwork on your behalf to build up your case.
Remember, don’t assume you don’t deserve compensation just because you weren’t in a car wreck. If you were injured because of someone else’s negligence, it is always worth contacting an attorney.