Directly after an accident, it's important to speak with as few people as possible. This is especially true after a slip and fall that you think someone else should be held responsible for. Obviously, you should answer any and all questions from paramedics and EMTs if you need emergency assistance. And speaking with your doctor is a must.
But beyond consulting an experienced attorney, you should keep things mum. Many injury victims make the mistake of speaking at length with the business or property owner whose negligence led to their fall. But that bit in your Miranda Rights, "What you say can and will be used against you in a court of law"? That's true in this situation, too.
Here are some useful tips from our experienced personal injury lawyers at Banville Law.
Say too much, or say something in the wrong way, and a defense attorney can latch on, twisting your statements to mean something you didn't intend.
With that being said, there are appropriate ways to speak about your fall without giving a negligent party more ammunition.
An "accident" happens spontaneously, out of the blue. When we hear the word "accident," we assume that no one could, or should, have seen it coming.
But if a grocery store employee allowed cracked eggs to sit on the floor for an hour, injuries caused by the hazard were foreseeable. At least, they should have been.
In short, if you believe that a property owner's negligence caused your fall, you didn't have an "accident." You were involved in an "incident."
Incidents are neutral, and it's the word most companies use internally to describe falls that occur on their property. An "incident" simply happens; it's an event. The word doesn't imply anything about fault. But unlike "accident," it doesn't leave responsibility entirely out of the picture, either.
On this site, we talk a lot about "responsibility" and "fault." But you shouldn't.
Instead, use the word "culpable." Culpable, unlike responsibility or fault, relates directly to the law.
If you believe that another person's negligence led to your injuries, and plan to file a lawsuit, then you think they should be held "legally responsible" for your damages. The short hand for "legal responsibility" is "culpability."
"Date of loss" is a phrase that insurance companies use to refer to the day of an "incident." Use it instead of ones like "when it happened," to underline the fact that you suffered specific damages because of your fall down incident.
"Date of loss" carries the repercussions of an incident into the present. It implies that you're still feeling the effects of your fall days and weeks after the actual event. It's not that you suffered a fall, it's that you lost something of importance.
You don't want to say things like "because of the incident, my knee is broken." This doesn't stress the right point. "Because" only says that there was an incident and a result, physical injury. It doesn't describe what connects the cause and its effect: legally recognizable negligence.
In legal terms, a "direct and proximate cause" is an event that (you guessed it) directly caused harm to someone. Unlike "because," stressing causation places culpability squarely on the shoulders of the person you think was negligent.
But always refer to a property owner's negligence as the direct and proximate cause, not a direct and proximate cause.
"Blame" is unproven; it's an accusation, not a done-deal. Instead, use phrases like:
"Your negligence was the direct and proximate cause of my injuries."
Always emphasize that another person's negligence isn't something you just "believe," it's a fact.
All the phrases we mentioned have the effect of making you sound professional. And professionalism, to a potentially negligent party, sounds like business. Speaking more like a lawyer, and less like a victim, will give others the impression that you are fully aware of your rights and know when they've been violated.
But more than that, the point is to eliminate the possibility of your own liability in the incident. All of our suggestions are meant to minimize your own liability, and transfer it entirely to the negligent party.
Instead of using "accident," which can backfire and make it sound like your mistake, we chose "incident," leaving culpability out of the picture entirely.
Instead of "blaming" another person, we made them "culpable" and "negligent," defining them as the legal cause of your injuries.
And instead of "blame," which leaves your claims in the realm of speculation, we moved them into the world of facts by using declarative statements that clearly described someone else's negligence.
But again, you should refrain from speaking with a negligent property owner until you've consulted an experienced New York injury lawyer. If you feel like you need to, use the tools we've described to keep your claim alive.
Continue reading: Can You Be Liable For Causing An Unintentional Slip & Fall?