On a warm September evening last year, a woman set out from her Manhattan apartment to pick up some dry cleaning. As she walked past the Frederick Douglass Houses, the woman’s right foot became stuck in a broken edge of sidewalk and she fell forward, landing on her right knee and left arm and hand. This incident left the woman with bruises, abrasions and a possible tear of the right medial meniscus.
The woman asked me to represent her and we recently settled the case with the New York City Housing Authority for an amount that exceeded the woman’s expectations and gave her fair value for her
Proving the Trip and Fall Case in New York
With more than two decades of experience as a New York personal injury attorney, I have handled many trip and fall cases. These cases can be tricky as juries tend to blame the victim believing that the injured person should have been more careful and could have avoided tripping. A personal injury lawyer must work closely with her client to prevail in trip and fall cases and I am grateful that I have had success with these cases because of the ability to work closely with my clients.
The first challenge comes from identifying the responsible party in a trip and fall case. If the incident occurred on a sidewalk, as in this case, then we need to determine who is responsible for the sidewalk. In New York City, the property owner of the land immediately adjacent to the sidewalk is liable for the sidewalk. In this case, the sidewalk was in front of a housing authority complex so the New York City Housing Authority bore responsibility.
Next we need to determine the cause of the trip and fall. In this case, an uneven sidewalk, what one witness called a “big dent,” caused the woman to trip and fall. If a defect is too minor, a jury will not believe it was sufficient to cause a trip and fall. If the effect is too large, the jury is likely to believe that the injured person should have avoided the defect. The greatest danger to pedestrians comes from the defects that create a trap, where the defect is large enough to trip a person, but not so large that it is readily visible.
Once we identify the cause, then we need to see if the defendant had prior notice about the defect. In this case, we filed a Freedom of Information Law (FOIL) request with the City of New York to retrieve records the documented the prior notice received by the Housing Authority.
In New York, state law requires that municipalities be given prior written notice and that prior written notice must go to the designated office. In New York City, the prior written notice must go to the Department of Transportation. In the Town of Huntington on Long Island, the Town succeeded in defeating a lawsuit because the plaintiff had failed to prove the town had prior written notice of a sidewalk defect. The plaintiff showed there were complaints made to the Town Council and the Highway Superintendent, but the law required the written notice to go to the Town Clerk.
Once we know the cause of the trip and fall, we need to investigate the exact circumstances of the incident. It is important to document that the injured person had proceeded with all due caution. I look into the person’s footwear, whether they were talking or texting on the phone, what they were carrying and where they were looking, among other factors. I take witness statements and gather photographs. If necessary, I will consult with an engineering expert.
The stronger the case we build, the greater the value of the case. In this instance, the defendant understood the strength of our case and knew what they would face at trial. This preparation induced them to settle the case for a good value for my client.
Personal injury Law Depends on Personal Relationships
There are many ways to build a law practice and to practice law. I started my own practice because I wanted to put the relationship with my clients at the heart of my business. I have won or settled hundreds of cases, yet I know that each case has a distinct fact pattern and its own personality. The success of each case depends upon the relationship I develop with my clients.
In this case, my client was a retired woman who was also a widow. Her husband had been an attorney, yet she had never been in involved in a lawsuit before. When she contacted me, I know she often
thought of her husband, thought how he would have handled this matter for her. Her trust in me meant a lot to me and I made sure to give her the special attention that her husband would have given the case.
I focus on four values in every case:
communication, education, moving cases as fast as possible and maximizing the compensation for my clients. I communicate as often as possible with each client and spend considerable time educating my clients. I let them know of each development and what that development means for their case. I know how long and frustrating the legal process can be, so I work hard not just to move
cases as quickly as possible, but to squeeze every day out of the process. At every turn, I let my clients know what to expect and where the case stands. I have developed an effective process for settling cases and now settle more 75 percent of all cases in a timely fashion.
And I understand that all of the communication and education, all the efforts to move a case quickly, only matters if I can also maximize the compensation that my clients receive. I need to be the best trial lawyer possible for my clients and take pride in knowing that other attorneys retain me to try cases for their clients. The thoroughness that I devote to investigating, researching and analyzing each case puts me in a position to maximize the settlements and court awards. Yet, it is the relationship with each client that makes the difference. Understanding what each client needs and wants enables me to do the best job possible for each client.
I have reached a point in my life and career where it is no longer enough to do my job well or to attain success. The awards and recognition are nice, but not enough. I want to make a difference. I don’t simply want a successful practice. I want a practice that stands out, that blazes a trail to a new way to serve clients. I believe that I approach my practice in a way that is different than many of my peers – from the emphasis on customer service to the deliverables that each client receives to the settlement packages that produce so many successful settlements. Yet the most important difference I can make comes in the way I treat my clients, the relationships I develop and the results I can earn for them.
This material is intended for informational uses only. It is not meant as legal advice. To receive legal advice, you should consult an attorney. Past results do not guarantee future outcomes.
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© copyright 2010-2011 by Carol L. Schlitt
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