Pam: Barry, with these cases being so difficult to win, is there anything that you do differently when you approach these cases?
Barry: Client education is really important in these kinds of cases. The law in this is sometimes really specialized and kind of nuanced. Clients really need to understand exactly what the law is. Especially since many times it’s not what they really think it is coming into the case. Clients need to know what the law is so that they can do a good job when they’re questioned by the insurance adjuster or by the lawyer for the other side.
The other reason that clients really need to have a good handle on what the legal issues in the case are, are so that they can make good decisions that they’re comfortable with or consistent with their own sense of values in terms of what to do once a settlement offer is made, if a settlement offer is ever made. Because if clients don’t have a good handle on exactly what their risk profile is, because of some of the difficulties improving these kinds of cases, they can’t make good decisions regarding settlement.
Pam: So then besides how you deal with clients, are there other ways in which your approach is different?
Barry: Well, early action and early investigation are really key to these kinds of cases. These are cases where the rule in our office is we don’t take them in if there’s a short statute of limitations coming up.
Pam: Why do you need to start working on these cases early?
One of the really critical issues in these kinds of cases is making sure that you have the proper parties in the case. In order to be able to do that, you need to be able to do the right kind of investigation. Where somebody fell is sometimes a really important issue because you may fall on what’s the dividing line between one piece of property versus another, and depending on who’s on what side of the line, you may have a different statute of limitations. You have a one-year statute of limitations for most personal injury cases that involve public property. It’s a two-year statute of limitations for most cases where the property is owned by a private entity, whether it’s a person or a corporation. If you fall somewhere that’s on one of those borders, you can have an entirely different statute of limitations.
Getting past just the ownership of the property, there may be a tenant or a subtenant, there may be a property manager, there may be contractors who’s involved in the maintenance of the property. You need to be able to identify who all these people are and what their roles are in the upkeep and maintenance of the property.
Sometimes you may have a situation where you think that you’re going to be doing the right thing by naming one particular property owner as a defendant and you discover they may be an adjoining property owner who’s actually the proper defendant.
I had a case a few years back where there was a young lady who locked herself out of her apartment and she went to go climb up her fire escape, to climb in the window to her apartment. While she was doing that, the railing broke on the fire escape and she fell from the third floor down to the ground. Well, we got out there to take a look at the property. One of the things that became apparent to us that wasn’t apparent just from the client’s interview was that the fire escape that she fell off of was actually attached to the building that was right next door. That’s something that we would have never known if we hadn’t gone out and taken a look at the property and been very careful about figuring out exactly what it was that caused the client to fall.
Also, getting involved in the case early on right after the accident happened can also help you locate witnesses and establish notice of the defect on the part of the defendant.
These are all good reasons why you want to act on these things early and why it makes good sense to get good legal help early on, right after this kind of accident has happened, as opposed to waiting until the insurance company has denied your claim.
Pam: Do you have any advice for people who have been hurt in slip and fall accidents?
Barry: Well, these are often more difficult cases than you might think going in, and it certainly makes sense to get good legal advice sooner rather than later, and not wait for the insurance company to deny your claim to finally look for legal help. You want to get this help sooner rather than later because there’s all sorts of investigation that needs to be done to make sure these cases are handled properly.