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When Temperatures Drop, Slip and Falls Happen

01-16-17    

Snow shows

Winter weather here in Ohio has been relatively mild so far this year, but undoubtedly we will be seeing some snow and ice soon. Every winter we get calls from people who are seriously injured in falls on icy sidewalks and in parking lots. Many people are surprised that in Ohio, the general rule is that landowners are not required to remove snow and ice from sidewalks, parking lots or driveways. This is known as the “natural accumulation” rule. The rationale for the rule is that the dangers associated with snow and ice are so open and obvious that people are required to protect themselves against falls. Ohio courts have confirmed that the rule applies equally to homeowners and to business owners alike.

If you fall at a store or at your apartment or condominium, and you try to present a claim, the business owner or landlord will probably tell you they don’t owe you anything because of the natural accumulation rule. However, what you need to know is that there are exceptions to the general rule. These exceptions include:

Unnatural Accumulation of Snow and Ice

A business may be responsible for failing to remove snow and ice caused by an unnatural accumulation. For example, a gutter that is negligently repaired, a negligently designed parking lot, or a water main break. Also, if naturally falling snow covers a hole in a sidewalk, and you are hurt because you couldn’t see it, the business may be responsible for failing to fix the hidden danger.

But, even if a fall is caused by an unnatural accumulation, that is not the end of what you must show to recover damages. You must also show that the landowner created the hazard and that the landowner knew about it. Surveillance footage at a store can help with proving this knowledge. (See our prior blog post about documenting your fall).

A Lease or Contract to Remove Ice and Snow

Even if the snow or ice you slipped on was naturally occurring, a business or landlord may be responsible if they agreed by contract to remove snow and ice. For example, if your lease requires the landlord to remove snow each morning, and they fail to do so, the landlord may be responsible. However, it is important to understand that just because a contract says the common areas will be kept “reasonably safe” does not automatically create an agreement to remove ice and would not by itself put the responsibility on the landlord. The contract must have a specific provision.

Negligent Removal of Snow and Ice

If a business or landowner undertakes to remove snow and ice, it can be held responsible if it does so in a way that makes the area more hazardous than it had been without their efforts at snow removal. For example, if a business contracts with a snow removal company to clear its parking lot, and the company fails to properly remove ice and snow, the company may be responsible if you slip and fall as a result.

Contact Rinehardt Law Firm

Although the deck is stacked against victims of slip and falls, there are instances in which a business or landowner is responsible for the harm caused. Contact Rinehardt Law Firm for a free consultation if you are hurt by a fall on ice or snow outside a store or at your apartment or condominium.


Three Rules if You Suffer Injury Due to a Fall at a Business—Document, Document, Document

12-16-16    

Guy fell on the ground

According to the National Bureau of Standards, over 500,000 Americans suffer serious injuries every year because of falls. 3,800 Americans die every year because of falls.

We get many calls from people who have been injured in falls on the premises of a business. We often get asked whether the business can be held responsible. When it comes to slip and falls, Ohio law favors businesses, but there are exceptions. If you fall while visiting a business, it is critical that you document the hazard that caused you to fall. Whether the business will be held responsible will depend on this evidence.

How to Document Your Case

  1. First and foremost, take photographs or video on your phone of what caused you to fall.
  2. Notify the business manager or owner that you have fallen, and ask that they complete an incident report.
  3. Talk to witnesses and write down anything that the witnesses say about what they saw.
  4. Ask the witnesses for their names and contact information.
  5. Specifically request in writing that the business preserve any surveillance footage. (Contact Rinehardt Law Firm for a sample letter).

In the case of serious injury, sometimes it is not possible to immediately do any of these things. If this is the case, it is important for your friends or family to attempt to obtain this evidence or contact an attorney right away.

This documentation can make or break your case. Rinehardt Law Firm has represented many clients in slip and fall cases. Our success in these cases often comes down to what we can prove about how our client was injured.

The Importance of Photographs

In one case, our client tripped at a grocery store on a rug that the store had placed against a refrigeration case. The edge of the rug was curled up creating a tripping hazard. While on the ground after the fall, another customer offered to take photographs with our client’s phone of the hazard that had caused her to fall. Our client was helped to the front of the store and an incident report was created before she was taken to the hospital. When our client later made a claim for the injuries she suffered, the store denied responsibility. After we got involved, we requested that the store provide us with a copy of the incident report and any other documentation they had to support their denial of her claim. The store provided us with the incident report and some photographs that it had taken after our client had left the store. Those photographs showed the rug moved away from the refrigeration case with a crate placed on the corner to keep the curled edge from sticking up. The store had gone back, staged the area, and taken photographs. The store was unaware that our client had taken photographs that not only proved there had been a tripping hazard, but also that the store had taken measures to falsely document the scene. After that, we were able to get a fair settlement for our client.

How Surveillance Video Can Help Your Case

In another case, we represented a woman who fell at a chain restaurant on a wet floor. Our client insisted there was no wet floor sign warning of the hazard. The restaurant denied responsibility claiming there was a wet floor sign. We got involved in the case and we asked the store to provide us with the video from the surveillance cameras to show what happened that day. The store refused to produce the video. The store was so uncooperative that we had to file a lawsuit. Once suit was filed, we asked the judge to force the restaurant to produce the video, and finally we got the surveillance footage. What the video showed was an employee mopping the floor without putting out a wet floor sign. The video showed our client walking around a corner, stepping onto the wet floor, and her feet flying out from under her. Our client suffered a severe fracture of her ankle in the fall. We were able to achieve a good settlement in that case as well.

Contact Rinehardt Law Firm

If you have been injured because of a slip and fall, contact Rinehardt Law Firm for a free consultation and make sure to document the cause of your fall.


Holiday Rush Can Cause Parking Lot Accidents—What to Do and How to Stay Safe

12-13-16    

Gifts in the trunk

What to Do

You can and should call the police. However, a parking lot accident will not be treated like a typical investigation. When an accident occurs in a parking lot on private property, the police may refuse to come. Also, be aware that even if the police do come, they will not issue a citation to the at fault driver and most likely won’t complete a crash report.

Because of this, it is more important than in any other situation to preserve evidence showing what happened. What you do at the scene to document what happened will determine whether you will be able to hold the at fault party responsible. It is critical that you take the following steps to document evidence:

  • Take photographs of all vehicles involved showing damage to the vehicles and the location of impact. Take the photos from many different angles if able to do so safely.
  • Get the names, phone numbers and addresses of all witnesses who saw what happened. If possible, write down what the witnesses say they saw while it is fresh in their minds.
  • Contact the store in front of which the collision took place to preserve any surveillance footage. Many stores have outside cameras, but they do not routinely keep the video unless a specific request is made. This could be the single most important piece of evidence to prove your case!

Tips for Staying Safe

Many accidents can be avoided if you take your time and follow these basic safety precautions:

  • 25 percent of parking lot accidents are caused by vehicles backing up so be extra cautious while doing so and watch out for other backing cars.
  • Don’t take short cuts and drive across parking lots-stay in designated lanes and follow directional arrows.
  • Comply with all posted signs including stop signs and speed limit signs.
  • Turn on headlights (even in daylight) to be more visible and reduce the risk of crashing.
  • Try to shop early in the morning to beat the crowds.
  • Buckle up. Accidents can happen anytime.
  • Park in well-lit areas of the parking lot.
  • Parking lot rules also apply to pedestrians-do not text while walking, make use of marked crosswalks when available, and watch out for backing vehicles

Contact Rinehardt Law Firm

If you are involved in a collision in a parking lot, contact Rinehardt Law Firm for a sample letter that you can send to the shopping center/store to put it on notice to retain the surveillance video.


When It Rains, It Pours—the Importance Of Umbrella Insurance

11-30-16    

family under umbrella

Coverage limits on an umbrella insurance policy typically start at $1 million, and can go up to $10 million. When purchasing this coverage, it is important to get both a liability umbrella and an uninsured/underinsured umbrella. The liability umbrella will protect your assets, but it is the UIM umbrella that will protect your family from the bad drivers on the roadways.

The price of umbrella insurance is surprisingly reasonable. Typically, a $1 million policy costs around $300 per year. A $3 million policy will cost less than three times the cost of a $1 million policy, and is usually under $500 per year.

12.5% of drivers on Ohio roadways are uninsured. Another 5% have only state minimum coverage. We see it all the time. A client is badly hurt due to someone else’s carelessness. The wrongdoer has no insurance or has only state minimum coverage ($25,000 per person). In the cases where the wrongdoer has no insurance, our client’s recovery is limited to his or her own uninsured motorist policy. If he or she doesn’t have an uninsured motorist policy, often there is no means for recovery. In the cases where the wrongdoer has state minimum coverage, our client’s recovery is usually limited to the $25,000 policy plus any underinsured motorist policy he or she may have.

Damages in car collisions include medical bills, lost wages, future medical treatment, future loss of earnings, physical pain, mental suffering, and past and future inability to perform usual activities. The total of these damages can exceed a state minimum policy in even a minor collision. In a major collision, with significant injury and permanent disability, these damages can exceed seven figures.

An umbrella policy can protect you in two important ways. Let’s consider two scenarios:

A. You are driving at a speed of 50 mph, you see a billboard that distracts your attention from the roadway. You don’t see that traffic ahead has stopped and you rear end another driver. The man you hit suffers a broken collar bone, a severe concussion, and broken wrist. Both the collar bone and the wrist injuries require surgery. The man’s medical bills exceed $75,000. The injured man misses work for four months and has lost wages of $15,000. You have a liability policy of $100,000, but no umbrella policy.

B. Your spouse is hit head on by a young driver who is texting and driving. Your spouse suffers several broken bones, internal injuries and has several teeth knocked out. A week in the hospital and several weeks in a rehabilitation nursing facility results in medical bills of more than $200,000. The young driver who hit your spouse has a state minimum policy of $25,000 and no assets. You have an underinsured motorist policy of $100,000 but no umbrella policy.

In scenario A, the injured man will recover your $100,000 policy. In addition, he will have the right to sue you for his damages exceeding $100,000. Your home, assets and income will be used to satisfy any damages above your insurance policy.

In scenario B, your spouse will recover the $25,000 policy from the wrongdoer, and will recover $75,000 from your underinsured motorist policy ($100,000 less the amount recovered from the wrongdoer). This money will be used to pay your spouse’s medical bills. You will be responsible for the remainder of the medical bills. Your spouse will not be compensated for his or her other harms and losses.

Suppose you had a $1,000,000 umbrella policy. in scenario A, the policy would be used to cover the injured man’s excess damages. In scenario B, the policy would be used to compensate your spouse for the extent of his or her harms and losses.

Your Insurance agent may not have offered you an umbrella policy or explained what one is when you purchased your insurance. Call your agent today and ask for a quote. Be sure to specify that you want an uninsured/underinsured umbrella and not just a liability umbrella. Like an umbrella on a rainy day, you will be relieved to have it when you need it.


Why Saving 15% On Your Car Insurance Isn’t Always a Good Idea

11-16-16    

lizard's shadow

What is UIM Coverage?

If you are involved in an accident with an uninsured motorist, and you are not at fault, it is up to you and your insurance company to cover the costs. If you don’t have UIM coverage, you are at risk for substantial financial loss. Your damages including property damage, medical bills, lost wages, physical pain and mental suffering will not be covered by your insurance company.

Uninsured motorist coverage will reimburse you, a member of your family, or a designated driver if your car is hit by an uninsured driver or a hit-and-run driver. Underinsured motorist coverage comes into play when the driver who hit you has insufficient insurance to pay your damages. Remember, in Ohio drivers are only required by law to carry $25,000 in coverage per person and $50,000 per accident.

What the Statistics Tell Us

A study conducted by the Insurance Research Council (IRC) in 2014, showed that in 2012, 12.6% of motorists in the United States, that is one in eight drivers, were uninsured. Ohio was ranked number 17 in having the highest number of uninsured motorists on the road. 13.5% of Ohio motorists were uninsured in 2012. That equates to more than 500,000 people in the state of Ohio driving without insurance.

It is also more likely that an uninsured driver will cause an accident than a driver with adequate insurance. In 2015, 94,647 Ohio drivers were uninsured at the scene of a crash. The uninsured driver was at fault 67% of the time. Uninsured drivers were responsible for 21% of the total number of car crashes in Ohio in 2015. This means that uninsured drivers are twice as likely to be involved in an accident.

Will My Rates Increase If I Use My Coverage?

The law is very clear that an insurance company is not permitted to increase your premium if you make an uninsured motorist claim against your policy if you are not at fault for the accident. (Ohio revised code section 3937.23)

Every insurance company has a duty to handle claims in good faith when it comes to dealing with its own customers. If your insurance company takes an overly adversarial approach to your UIM claim, it may have violated its duty to handle your claim in good faith.

Contact Rinehardt Law Firm

Even if you have UIM coverage, insurance providers may refuse to pay you a fair amount for your damages. In that case, you bring a claim against your own insurance company to get the benefits you paid for and were promised. Insurance companies often offer claimants very low amounts without finding out how much the claimant has suffered or how the accident has impacted your life. If you have been involved in an accident with an uninsured or underinsured motorist, contact Rinehardt Law Firm for a free consultation.

Ready to get Started?

We’re here to help you and your family get back on track after an accident. Reach out to us today for a free case evaluation.