Dear Readers - Recently we completed a 7-segment video series on pool safety. A sample segment is included below. You can view the entire series by following this link: www.youtube.com/poolsafetytips - Special thanks to Pool Safety Mom Mary Ann Downing for her invaluable help with this series.
Portions of sidewalks are sometimes pushed up enough to create a tripping hazard when tree roots force up a concrete slab. The owner of that tree has a duty to keep his or her trees from creating such hazards and should arrange to have the sidewalk fixed. Often, a city will have an ordinance under which it will pay for part of the repair if notified before an accident takes place, whereas if notified after an accident the city will repair the sidewalk and send the homeowner a bill for the full repair charges.
Irrigation water or lawn watering that spills across sidewalks and allows slippery moss to grow on the walkway is another typical problem that will render a landowner responsible for accidents.
Most often, municipalities and landowners are “jointly responsible” for sidewalk safety and the victim will bring a claim against both at the same time. The city and the home owner will then negotiate between themselves the amount that each will contribute to a settlement.
The three arguments that municipalities and landowners most often raise against such a claim is either (1) the defect in the sidewalk was so “open and obvious” that the only way an accident could occur would be if the pedestrian was not exercising reasonable care for his or her own safety, or (2) the defect in the sidewalk was so trivial that an ordinary pedestrian would not have fallen, or (3) the description of the fall, such as whether the leg “flew out” or “buckled under” is not consistent with the type of accident described by the victim.
“Open and obvious” dangers are not a defense where the pedestrian does not have a reasonable alternative route to avoid the problem.
“Trivial defects” are generally changes in sidewalk elevations (raised slabs) under 3/4 of an inch. However, such defects can still cause liability in certain circumstances. For example, in areas known to be frequented by children, such as near schools, where skateboarding is common, even a ½ inch raise or less can result in predictable and serious injuries.
Consistency of complaints with the mechanism of injury generally requires the use of an expert in falls. These experts usually have degrees in safety engineering and sometimes in bio-mechanics, but all such competent experts have extensive experience in the science of how and why people fall and what injuries can be expected as a result of different traumas.
Municipalities and landowners have a duty of reasonable inspection and subsequent repair or warning, depending on the nature of the hazard. Where this duty is breached and an accident occurs, the victim has a possible lawsuit and should seek immediate representation by a good attorney who will (1) quickly have the area of the fall photographed and measured to preserve evidence as the walkway will usually be quickly repaired after a claim is filed, (2) preserve the victim’s shoes to show that the pedestrian was walking in a normal and responsible manner with due care for his or her own safety, and (3) make certain that the victim properly explains to his or her doctors the exact manner in which the body moved during the fall in conformity with the type of slip or trip.
How then do you get compensated for future problems you may encounter with your health and in your life?
The answer is that your lawyer must hire experts in various fields who can make reasonable predictions about your future. In the field of health, this will mean doctors skilled in the specialty of your post-accident condition: someone who can testify based on scientific studies and his or her own education, training and experience in treating people with your condition. In the field of lost wages, this means a vocational expert: someone who can testify as to the types of jobs available to someone of your age, education, work experience (transferable skills) and level and type of impairments. In the field of economic losses, this means an economist who can predict what types of job benefits, raises, employer provided insurance and bonuses, career advancement opportunities and similar job related benefits would probably come to you over the course of your life. The economist would also often be asked to predict the future value of the dollar in order to determine how many of today’s dollars it will take to compensate for the loss of those future dollars (which might be worth more or less in the future, depending on inflation).
These estimates can only be made once your physical and mental injuries are fully known.
Let’s take an example of this concept. Assume someone is hit from the rear in an automobile accident. At the scene, the victim feels some stiffness and the next morning wakes up with neck pain. Typically, x-rays will be taken and physical therapy initiated. Major relief might be accomplished in two to three months. However, what happens if the victim settles at this point and a few months later severe pain in the neck running down into the arm signals that a disk in the neck was weakened in the accident and didn’t show up on a simple x-ray? Months or years and perhaps permanent injury might be the result and if the settlement was made too early and the victim will not have been properly compensated.
Unfortunately, we have all seen articles about “churn and burn” businesses that promise “quick settlement of your claim” without also advertising that this can carry some very real hazards.
Patience and preparation are the keys to full compensation. Reputable law firms will gladly set up your file, advise you as to how to protect your rights, make suggestions as to doctors known for their skills in the area of your injury, and help you avoid some of the common pitfalls in the early stages of a claim, all without charge unless there is a recovery for you at the end of the case.
The proper start to a case requires a good attorney and the wise accident victim will hire one as soon after an accident as possible to begin building the case with care and patience.