Now that many areas in the United States are opening up again in 2021, you may be one of the 105 million people who visit a mall each year or 62-71 million people who visit a grocery store each week. Chances are that even if you enjoy saving time by online shopping, you still venture out to the occasional supermarket, big box store, or retail store in person.
Unfortunately, even though retail stores are responsible for keeping their customers safe, sometimes accidents happen in these places.
In Indiana, the Premises Liability Law means that property owners are responsible for injuries, damages, or deaths that occur to those who are legally on their property if the accident or incident occurred because of unsafe property conditions. In addition, the property owner (the store) must have known about the risk or danger and not have taken steps to fix it (or to block it off) in order to prove negligence.
If you are shopping at a retail store, you are legally an invitee. This is someone who has been invited or permitted onto the property for the benefit of the owner.
The store owner would be considered negligent under premises liability law under the following conditions:
- The defendant (store owner) owes a duty to the plaintiff (you, the injured person): this is the responsibility to maintain a reasonably safe environment.
- The defendant breached this duty (did not maintain a reasonably safe environment).
- But for the defendant’s action (or failure to act), the plaintiff wouldn’t have suffered the injury. This means that you wouldn’t have been injured if it hadn’t been for the negligence of the store owner or store employees.
- The defendant’s action (or failure to act) was the proximate cause of the injury, and the defendant could have foreseen this. Proximate cause means “legal cause,” or one that the law recognizes as the primary cause of the injury.
- The plaintiff suffered damages (such as injury-causing medical bills and pain and suffering).
Call 1-800-265-9881 or (317) 780-8000 to speak with a Poynter & Bucheri representative if you have been injured because of the negligence of a retail store and we’ll help you file a premise liability case to get the compensation you deserve. We represent clients in Indianapolis and throughout the surrounding areas.
Our Indianapolis personal injury lawyers offer free consultations for accident victims so that you can get answers to your questions and learn about your options for recovering compensation for your premises liability claim. The lawyers of Poynter & Bucheri, LLC want to help you fight for your right to be compensated when a negligent party causes you an injury.
Our client was an elderly woman customer at a big box clothing store, where she tripped and fell over the threshold of the entrance. The client suffered a fractured hip and required multiple surgeries. Poynter & Bucheri named both the big box store and landlord as defendants. We hired an engineer to conduct an inspection and he found that the threshold was not in compliance with code. After sharing the report, settlement was reached with both defendants.
For further details, please contact our office
Most people are aware of slip and fall injuries — the type of thing that happens when somebody slips on a wet patch of floor that wasn’t blocked off and had no warning signs. But there are many other possible ways that customers could be injured in retail stores.
- Spilled liquid or produce causing slippery floors and slip and fall accidents. According to the CDC, an average of 800,000 people are hospitalized each year as a result of falls.
- Leaking water from a freezer or display case.
- Icy pathways or entryways.
- Sharp display hooks that can cut people or hurt children who walk into them at eye level.
- Displays that have been overloaded and lack structural integrity. Products can fall off of these, or the entire display could collapse.
- Uneven displays that easily collapse.
- Putting products beyond the reach of customers (like on a top shelf) without any way to reach them.
- Stacking products too high on the shelf, causing them to fall or causing the shelf to break under the load.
- Pallets placed in the aisles (especially in home improvement stores) that are difficult for customers to notice. Between 2014 and 2018, about 30,493 people were injured and treated at hospital emergency rooms from pallet-related injuries they received in retail stores. According to a study by Pallet Enterprise, 51% of in-store injuries were caused by tripping on a pallet.
- Cluttered aisles causing people to trip or not be able to see a hazard before they walked into it.
- Displays that don’t come up to waist level and are therefore difficult to notice.
- Defective store fixtures or cabinets or shelving displays that are improperly mounted (or not mounted at all) to the wall.
- Faulty or poorly maintained escalators, elevators, or automatic doors.
- Overcrowding: especially around the holidays or Black Friday, without appropriate crowd control and security measures, people can be trampled or crushed.
- Assaults or muggings, such as those happening in parking garages, stairways, or bathrooms. It may be that there is insufficient lighting or poor security measures.
- Broken or wobbly handrails on staircases or rotting steps.
- Shopping carts that malfunction and cause a loss of control.
- Signs that protrude into the aisle at face level.
- Uneven or cracked flooring
- Extension cords or wires in an area where they can be tripped over.
Obviously, there are a host of other potential hazards, depending on which store you visit, how vigilant and aware they are, how exhausted or understaffed their employees are, and what kind of store safety plans they have in place. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 1,045,422 retail stores in the United States as of the third quarter of 2020. These retail stores employed almost 15.16 million people. That’s a lot of workers capable of making potentially dangerous mistakes.
As a result of an accident in a retail store, you may suffer from a wide variety of injuries, but the most common are:
- Concussions and/or Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI)
Both concussions and TBIs result in changes in brain function. The effects of a head injury, such as a concussion or TBI, vary from mild to more serious, depending on the nature of the accident. Symptoms can include nausea, dizziness, drowsiness, headaches, memory loss, and more. Concussions and brain injuries can happen when people fall, but also when heavy items fall on their heads.
Lacerations account for any tearing or breaking of the flesh and can be the result of a slip and fall accident that occurs in a hazardous, unkept, or hard-surface area, or one that occurs where other objects are involved or disrupted.
Contusions, also known as bruises, are the result of blood collecting outside of a blood vessel (hematoma).
- Spinal Cord Injuries
Injuries to the spinal cord can be quite serious and can result in loss of motor function and other nervous system issues.
Slip and fall injuries commonly result in bone fractures in the hips, wrists, hands, arms, ankles, feet, and legs. Hip fractures are particularly common in older adults, whose bones may be frail. Approximately 90% of the United States’ annual 353,000 hip fractures are the result of falls.
- Sprains, Strains, and Tears
Sprains are the stretching or tearing of the ligament, whereas strains affect the muscle or tendon. Both can be quite painful and can result in rest, compression, pain medication, or even the use of crutches or a cane.
- In the most severe cases, the victim can suffer paralysis, incapacitation, or death. These are devastating results for an accident that can be prevented by a well-maintained, properly attended property.
Steps to Take After Your Injury
If you have just been hit on the head by a pile of George Foreman grills or have tripped over a partially loaded pallet, you are probably not lying on the ground thinking “I must gather evidence in case I need to file a lawsuit in the future.” Most likely, you are lying there wondering how badly you are injured and feeling humiliated. However, there are definitely some things you can do that can have a significant impact on a personal injury claim if you need one.
- Report the fall immediately. Request the owner, manager, or other person in authority to report the fall. Do not sign any waivers absolving them of guilt or offer any recorded statements. The store manager should make an incident report and ask you to sign it. Read it carefully to make sure that it is accurate before you sign. Make sure to get a copy of this incident report before you leave.
- Take photographs and videos. The accident scene is likely to change after your fall or accident because the owner will correct the hazardous or dangerous condition that caused it. If you cannot take pictures, you can ask someone to take them with your cell phone. Be sure to get both wide shots as well as close shots of the scene from as many angles as possible. You should also photograph any and all injuries you sustain.
- Ask for names and contact information for eyewitnesses.Eyewitnesses provide excellent information about the condition of the property and how the fall occurred. However, some witnesses may leave after other people arrive, so try to get witness information quickly.
- Seek medical attention.You need to document your injuries for an accident claim. If you do not go to the emergency room, you should see your doctor as soon as possible. You could be suffering from a brain injury or other injury that you are not aware of until a complete examination by a medical professional has been done.
- Preserve clothing and shoes. Place everything you were wearing into a bag as evidence. The owner may claim what you were wearing contributed to the cause of your fall. Your attorney will need your clothes and shoes to challenge that defense.
- Do not discuss your fall with anyone. The only people you need to discuss your fall with at this time are your medical providers and your Indianapolis slip and fall attorney. Avoid posting on social media or discussing the fall with family and friends.
- Do not provide a written or recorded statement to the insurance adjuster. You need to consult with an attorney before providing any statements or signing any medical releases related to the accident or your injuries. The insurance adjuster may pressure you to provide a statement. Call our law firm immediately to speak with an attorney.
- Follow medical advice and treatments. Be sure to follow through with your doctor’s prescribed treatment for any and all injuries sustained. Failing to do so may result in harm to your case.
- Consult an Indianapolis premises liability lawyer. The store owner or manager may tell you that they are taking care of all your expenses, and they may be telling the truth. However, you need to consult with an experienced attorney to ensure you are not forfeiting any of your legal rights. Certain stores (ahem…Walmart) are known for limiting their liability. Large chains have ample amounts of money to hire lawyers to fight your claim. One large chain, which is sued nearly 20 times a day (still looking at you, Walmart), actually has its own investigation claims management company (CMI).
If you are unable to reach a fair settlement with the store’s insurance company, you and your attorney may pursue a lawsuit. Pursuant to Indiana’s premises liability laws, a victim may claim financial damages and non-economic damages for a fall or injury in a retail store.
Financial Damages Include:
- Medical expenses, including emergency services, hospital stays, physicians, surgeries, medical equipment, physical therapy, counseling, etc.
- Loss of income, including loss of future income and, decreased earning potential.
- Ongoing medical and personal care for permanent impairment or disability.
- Other out-of-pocket expenses such as travel costs, over-the-counter medications, help with household chores, and home modifications to accommodate an impairment.
Noneconomic Damages Include:
- Physical pain and discomfort
- Scarring and disfigurement
- Permanent impairments
- Emotional distress and mental anguish
- Development of phobias, such as of heights or of falling
- Loss of enjoyment of life and loss of consortium
An Example of a Winning Case Against a Retail Store:
In 2019, a man in Alabama was awarded $7.5 million from Walmart Stores after a jury heard several days of evidence in his negligence trial. He had reached to get a watermelon when his foot became stuck in a wooden pallet. He fell, breaking his foot and his hip, which injured him so severely that he ended up using a walker at the age of 59.
According to Alabama.com, Walker sued Walmart on both a negligence claim and a wantonness claim. He was awarded $2.5 million in compensatory damages and $5 million in punitive damages. The jury found that Walmart had a duty to “exercise reasonable care, to maintain and keep its premises in a reasonably safe condition, and to warn the public of unsafe and hazardous conditions.” Walmart was less than happy with this outcome, but store surveillance footage had shown that several other people had also caught their feet in the side opening of the pallet.
Clearly, not all lawsuits result in $7.5 million payouts, (which is why the case above featured so prominently in news stories). However, it is important to know that 91% of personal injury cases where the plaintiffs hire a lawyer result in payments, while only 51% of cases without a lawyer do. A survey from lawyers.com found that the average settlement or award for those with lawyers was $77,600, compared to $17,600 for those who handled their own cases.
Modified Comparative Negligence
Insurance companies are required to pay out for legitimate claims, but they are also required to save as much money as possible. They may try to claim that your own actions contributed to your injuries. It’s important to be aware of Indiana’s modified comparative negligence laws.
- This law means that the plaintiff must be less than 51% at fault for the incident in order to file an injury claim.
- It also means that courts reduce recovery in proportion to each party’s contribution to negligence.
Indiana has what’s called “modified comparative negligence” when it comes to personal injury cases. This means that both the claimant (you) and defendant (the store) can be found liable, but if you are less than or equal to 50% responsible, then you may still recover damages. Additionally, any damages received are modified to reflect the percentage of liability.
For example, let’s say you are seeking damages of $10,000 to cover your medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering after tripping over a pallet in a big box store.
First, the jury will determine whether the store was negligent in leaving the pallet in a heavily trafficked area. Once negligence is established, the jury will determine whether you share in any of the blame for the accident. Perhaps you were on your phone, or you ignored a sign that was placed warning you of the pallet.
Let’s say the jury finds you 25% liable. Because both parties were determined to be negligent, and you as the injured party were found to be 50% or less responsible, then you are entitled to damages. Because you were found 25% liable, then you would recover 75% of the $10,000, or $7,500.
Outside of the courtroom, settlements between you and the property owner and their insurance may also reflect the notions of comparative negligence. The insurance company will want to pay as little as possible, so they will make the argument that you are responsible for all or part of the accident.
Because of this, it is important to work with a qualified slip and fall lawyer to make the strongest, most effective case possible against the property owner.
Indiana Statute of Limitations
One more important fact to keep in mind: The Statute of Limitations for Indiana lawsuits is two years. If you do not file your lawsuit within that time, you will be out of luck, so contact Poynter & Bucheri as soon as possible.
How to Keep Yourself and Others Safe in a Retail Store
- Pay attention to your surroundings. You don’t want to walk into a sign or hook jutting out into the aisle.
- Stay off your phone while you are walking. You wouldn’t walk around a store reading a book; looking down at your phone is the same thing.
- Read any caution signs, and heed their warnings.
- Don’t climb up to a high shelf to retrieve an item; always ask a store associate for help.
- Keep your children nearby. Don’t allow them to crawl under clothing racks or play with stacked display items that could topple on them.
- If you notice a spill or leak, notify a store employee.
- In a mall, avoid isolated areas with poor lighting.
- Check your shoelaces or scarf before stepping onto an escalator.
If, despite your own safe actions, you have been injured in a retail store, don’t try to deal with their insurance company by yourself. Consult an experienced retail store negligence attorney to guide you through the settlement process or to file a lawsuit if necessary.
Poynter & Bucheri Accident Recovery — Indianapolis Personal Injury Attorneys
If you or a loved one has been injured physically or mentally by a person, product or company, you need to know your legal rights. Our premises liability attorneys are experienced with cases like yours and can evaluate what your case may be worth. We will ensure that you are protected and compensated for your injuries and losses.
Why pay up to 40% in attorney fees? Our fee is only 25%*, and we fight to win your case or you pay no attorney fees at all. Don’t hesitate — one of our experienced attorneys can assist you right away.
Call (800) 265-9881 for a free case review.