You’ve heard the stories: a customer walking down the aisle of a neighborhood supermarket slips and falls, suffering some injury, then sues the supermarket for a million dollars.
That’s what happened when a Florida woman sued Wal-Mart after she injured herself in a Wal-Mart Super Center back in 2005. The case took years, but as the Jacksonville Business Journal reported, the woman ultimately won a $1 million verdict against the retail giant.
The damages the jury awarded were unusually high, in part because the victim had a pre-existing condition from a recent surgery, and the fall resulted in extended nerve damage. But even when the dollar amount the victim is seeking is only in the thousands, collecting on such a claim isn’t always easy.
What duty do property owners owe visitors?
Private property owners do have a duty to keep their premises safe for visitors, whether those visitors are customers, employees, delivery persons, or guests. And businesses that are open to the public generally have a greater responsibility than private homeowners to make sure conditions on the property don’t pose a hazard for others. In most states, that duty includes inspecting the property and fixing any dangerous conditions that exist, or warning any visitors of the potential danger until the problem can be remedied.
Unfortunately, some scam artists – aware of the liability the law imposes on property owners – have taken advantage of the situation by faking “slip-and-fall” accidents, then suing the property owners in hopes of landing a financial windfall.
Are fake slip-and-fall cases on the rise?
Just this spring, prosecutors in Pennsylvania charged 46 people with staging slip-and-fall accidents in an elaborate scheme to bilk insurance companies out of nearly $400,000. According to Philly.com, the scam had been going on for seven years. Philadelphia’s district attorney said the alleged ringleader would often recruit homeless people, tell them where to stage their falls, then have them call 911 and lie about their injuries.
The National Insurance Crime Bureau considers such phony claims to be a form of extortion. A study by the organization found the number of questionable slip-and-fall claims to be on the rise, increasing by 12 percent from 2010 to 2011.
What about real slip-and-fall victims?
Sadly, these cases can make it more difficult for the victims of real slip-and-fall accidents to recover what they deserve. As the Business Journal reported, a number of large retail companies tend to take slip-and-fall cases all the way to trial rather than settle them out of court. By dragging out the process, the retailers believe they are deterring the scam artists and discouraging the filing of frivolous lawsuits.
But what if the victim’s injuries are legitimate? Unfortunately, the prevalence of slip-and-fall scam artists may cause many property owners to react with skepticism upon learning of a victim’s injuries. But real slip-and-fall accidents can be serious, resulting in broken ankles, broken hips, concussions, and back injuries.
Reed & Reed, with offices in Brandon and Tampa, knows how to properly investigate a slip-and-fall accident and establish the property owner’s liability when appropriate. Our attorneys have decades of experience helping families and individuals recover compensation for all types of personal injuries. If you’ve been injured by someone else’s negligence, feel free to contact us today.