In most slip and fall and other premises liability cases, it is the burden of the injured party to prove the negligence of the defendant. One of the elements in proving negligence is showing the defendant had actual or constructive notice of the dangerous, hazardous or defective condition. The injured party or Plaintiff must prove that the defendant (eg. property owner, retailer, restaurant, hotel) created the condition, knew of the condition, or had sufficient time to discover the condition had they used reasonable care, but failed to remedy it. In meeting that burden, Plaintiff must present evidence to demonstrate the defendant’s notice of the condition and negligence.
It is critical that the injured party gather, document and preserve the evidence that not only substantiates that the accident happened, but also proves that the defendant had notice of the dangerous condition or had reasonable time to warn, discover and/or fix the condition. The following steps should be taken at the accident scene:
Obtain witness information and if possible, witness statements;
Take photographs of the dangerous condition (most cell phones have built in cameras);
Take measurements or at least observe the dimensions of the dangerous condition;
Look to see and photograph whether there were any cautionary cones or warning signs posted;
If you slipped on a puddle of water or liquid, was there a rubber mat in place;
Try to determine the source of the dangerous condition (eg. leaky refrigeration; broken pipe, exposed wire, etc.);
Do not wash or discard the clothes you were wearing (soiled clothes help show the source and extent of the oily or dirty puddle that you slipped in);
Do not discard or continue wearing the shoes or footwear that you had on at the time of your fall (the oily substance you slipped on may still be on the sole of your shoes. The type of shoe, heel height, and bottom may be an important component in the accident and it is important to preserve the condition of the footwear at the time of the fall);
Obtain copies of any incident reports or statements that you give at the accident scene;
Look to see if there are any surveillance cameras in place on the premises that may have captured the incident and captured the activity in and around the accident scene (this helps to not only document the incident, but helps establish both actual and constructive notice of the defendant);
Request a copy of the surveillance tape at the scene and demand that it is preserved and not erased or recorded over.
Admittedly, taking the above actions at the time of an accident is easier said than done, especially if you are seriously injured, in excruciating pain or being taken away by paramedics. That is why it is advisable that you promptly seek the advice of an experienced slip and fall/premises liability attorney, such as Los Angeles consumer and personal injury attorney Frederick S. Schwartz who can take prompt action to put the defendant on notice of its duty to preserve the surveillance tape and other evidence, obtain witness statements, investigate the accident scene and take needed photographs, measurements and tests.