Posted By Alan Sackrin on September 22, 2016
It is surprising to think how often you can come across a “stage” or “elevation” in South Florida. Sure, you’ll find a stage at a local theater or in a school auditorium.
But terms like “elevations” and “stages” are used describe many different surfaces. Especially when it comes to a slip and fall accident.
Have you been hurt because of a fall? Did it happen on the property of a business?
Will you have to pay them? Or, will the insurance policy of the business owner cover your accident?
These are all questions that are asked when someone is hurt because of the negligence of another, including a slip and fall.
Will Your Slip and Fall Claim Be Covered by the Business Owner’s Insurance?
In Florida, businesses are liable for accidents on their property under “premises liability law.” The Florida legislature passed specific statutes which obligate companies to take financial responsibility for accidents suffered by their clients and customers (”invitees”).
But it’s not automatic that the business will be liable. Even if you have been seriously hurt in a slip and fall on their property, they may not have to compensate you for your losses.
Just because you fell at a business location does not make them immediately liable for your damages.
What will make them liable to compensate you for your accident injuries after a slip and fall? Under Florida law, they must have been negligent, or unreasonable, in keeping their facilities safe.
So, were they negligent and irresponsible in your case?
What Evidence Will You Need To Prove Your Slip and Fall Claim
In Florida, an accident victim will need to provide evidence that the business failed to act reasonably in trying to prevent their slip and fall. It is the victim’s “burden of proof.” The victim’s goal is to show the business or property owner was negligent, or it failed to act reasonably.
This means you have the duty to gather together not only (1) proof of your damages (your medical bills, for instance) but you will have to have evidence to show that (2) the accident happened, that (3) it was the business’s fault and (4) the business had a duty to keep you safe and it failed to fulfill its duty.
Was the Business Reasonable in Trying to Prevent Your Fall?
Your first step: understand your accident scene and the business itself.
That means learning what this kind of business should be doing to prevent your kind of slip and fall. Know what a reasonable and prudent business in this line or industry should do (restaurant, spa, store, parking garage, etc.).
Then you can compare it to the facts of your particular case. Did they fail to do what they were supposed to prevent an injury from occurring on their premises?
A great help here are the various “risk manuals” published online by insurance companies who provide accident coverage to businesses. No one will know better what is reasonable and what is not for these business operations than the companies who have to pay claims when they fail to do act reasonably. (See, for instance, this one from Traveler’s Insurance).
How Do You Define a Stage or Elevation Fall?
Next step: understand your accident. Different kinds of slip and fall accidents are evaluated differently. (See, for example, our earlier posts on slip and fall accidents in entryways; restrooms; stairways; etc.).
So, have you suffered a “change in elevation” or stage slip and fall?
What is a “stage” or “elevation” in terms of a slip/trip or fall accident? Any kind of change in a footpath, where forward movement will elevate you as you step forward, can be considered a “stage” or “elevation” for purposes of assessing risk and defining slip and fall accident hazards.
When an insurance adjuster considers a “change in elevation” or stage slip and fall accident, they are looking at things like:
- single steps
- low profile stages
- high profile stages
- raised seating areas
- deck transitions
- patio transitions
- Speed bumps in a roadway
- Parking lot buttresses
What is a Change in Elevation?
Accident experts as well as insurance adjusters and claims departments are well-acquainted with the dangers of a fall caused by a change in elevation. See, e.g., “Accident Prevention: Slips, Trips and Falls,” a risk manual published by the University of Wisconsin.
Sometimes these are minor changes in a walking path. Even a slight change (up or down) of half-an-inch can cause someone to trip and fall.
Even a slight 1/2 inch drop in a sidewalk can cause someone to fall and be seriously injured!
These low level elevation fall accidents usually happen when someone steps on, or off, a street-side curb; or is walking through a crowded parking lot at the grocery store or shopping mall. Injuries may include an ankle fracture and some embarrassment, but a full recovery likely follows a low level elevation fall.
However, serious injuries and even death can result from falls caused by high level changes in elevation. These are often work place accidents, where someone is involved in construction, repair, or maintenance of a project and falls from a scaffold, ramp, platform, roof, overhang, balcony, etc.
Fatal Change in Elevation falls are known dangers on construction sites. Also, of course, in the roofing industry.
For more information, see the June 2013 risk manual provided by Travelers, “Slip, Trip and Fall Risk Management” and the manual “Construction Safety and Health,” published by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
Some elevations may be governed by federal law protecting access for those with disabilities. Ramps, sidewalks, inclines, and other public areas may be covered by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). If a business fails to meet the standards set by the ADA, then they can be liable for resulting slip and fall accident damages as well as facing federal liability for non-compliance. See, e.g., “ADA Standards for Accessible Design.”
Causes of Change in Elevation Accidents
When someone is not focusing on where they are walking, they may not realize that they are approaching a change in elevation. Maybe they are new to the area; maybe they are so accustomed to walking this path that they take their safety for granted. Maybe they’re just busy or having fun.
This does not mean that they are liable for their accident and resulting injuries.
Hidden From View
Sometimes, the change in elevation is hidden and not easily seen. This can happen at night, or where inadequate lighting has been provided for the area. Maybe it’s covered by trash or a rug. You didn’t see it.
Many slip and fall and trip and fall accidents occur because of changes in elevation caused by sub-standard conditions. These can be inadequate repair and maintenance of the walking path. The sub-standard conditions can also be failure to maintain things designed to stop a fall, like handrails, slip-resistant flooring, and the like.
Obstructions or Debris
Obstructions and debris on a walking path can block the view of an upcoming change in elevation and cause someone to suffer severe injuries in a fall. Trash can obscure a change in elevation. Even a large group of people walking ahead of you may be enough to block your view of the impending danger.
Likewise, failing to have proper lighting on the walking path can invite the accident victim to assume that their walking path is secure, blinding them to the upcoming change in elevation and causing them to fall. Dim lights or burned out light bulbs can mean a serious trip and fall on a change in elevation.
Blocked Depth Perception
Depth perception is altered by different levels of light, as well as color, pattern, and contrast. How well you can see ahead of you will depend upon your depth perception.
If the walking pathway is dark or dim, your eyes cannot see as well, and there is an increase risk of a fall caused by a change in elevation. Similarly, if the area is monotone with little variance in color, the danger increases of a change in elevation trip and fall. See, e.g., “What You Don’t See Can Hurt You: Understanding the Role of Depth Perception in Slip, Trip, and Fall Accidents,” published by the University of West Florida.
16 Questions to Ask When Evaluating a Business Owner’s Responsibility for Your Slip and Fall Accident
Here are some questions for you to consider as you compare your accident with what you have learned a reasonable business owner or operator would do in the circumstances.
Remember, you must have not only photos and visuals of your accident, but admissible images of the accident site, as well as other evidence including the police report, any witness statements, medical care reports, doctor’s opinions, etc.
Take your facts and ponder the following:
- Was there anyone else around at the time of your fall from the stage or elevation? Did they slip or trip?
- Has anyone else in the past few months prior to your accident had a problem at this spot with almost falling? Have they tripped? Slipped? What kept them from falling down?
- Where there any signs around the stage or elevation to warn you of any danger?
- Do you know the OSHA regulations for this particular accident site? Were they followed?
- Do you know the guidelines established by the Americans With Disabilities Act for this particular accident site? Were they followed?
- What color were the walls, the ceiling, and the flooring? Were they all the same color? Did this hamper your depth perception?
- Were there any changes in the patterns found on the walls, the ceiling, or the flooring? Did this hamper your depth perception?
- Were there any handrails are guardrails at the accident site?
- Were they in good working order? Were they clean or dirty? Were they slippery? Were they loose?
- If a stage was involved in your accident, were there portable stanchions (web-like safety belts)?
- If an elevated platform was involved in your accident, were there portable stanchions (web-like safety belts)?
- If a low level elevation was involved in your accident, was it high enough so that someone walking could see it?
- If not, what was done to alert of the risk?
- What effort was made by the business to increase the visibility of the change in elevation? Was there any contrasting paint? Signs? Indirect lighting?
- Have any repairs or changes been done to the property in the past six months? Who were the contractors? Did they have any concerns or issues with the change in elevation at the site of your accident?
- Who is responsible for cleaning and daily upkeep? Did they have any concerns or issues with the change in elevation at the site of your accident?
Do You Have a Claim?
If you or a loved one have been the victim of a slip and fall accident that happened on commercial property here in South Florida, then you may want to investigate possible legal claims against the owner and operator of that business with an experienced Florida slip and fall lawyer.
If the business failed to act reasonably to prevent your slip and fall, it it likely it will be found negligent under Florida’s premises liability law. If so, it will be required to compensate you for your damages, including medical costs, lost wages, and more.
If you or a loved one has been injured in one of these slip and falls in Florida, a good piece of advice is to speak with an experienced Florida personal injury lawyer to learn about some of the issues that can arise with these claims, including the type of evidence needed to prove a claim and the type and amount of damages you can recover. Most personal injury lawyers, like Alan Sackrin, will offer a free initial consultation (over the phone or in person, whichever you prefer) to answer your questions.
Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to send Alan an email or call him now at (954) 458-8655.