Accidents happen — you might slip and fall or trip over something and end up on the ground. While you might be able to get back up and walk away unharmed, accidents can often lead to more severe injuries, and in some instances, even result in death. In 2016, more than 39 million people visited a physician's office due to accidental injuries, and more than 29 million ended up in the emergency department for the same reason. In total, 169,936 people in the U.S. died from unintentional injuries in 2017 — making it the third leading cause of death. While some people suffered injuries at home, others were on someone else's property. If you or a family member got injured on someone's property, you could take action.
What to Do If Injured on Someone's Property in Delaware
If you were away on vacation, at someone else's home or visiting your favorite restaurant and suffered injuries, you could get back anything you lost as a result of your injuries from that accident. Accidents happen, but in some cases where one could have been preventable, such as those caused by uneven stairs, falling objects or defective parking lots and sidewalks, a jury may deem the conditions dangerous, and you could be entitled to claim damages. Knowing what to do if injured on a friend's property or at a place of business is essential. However, this process varies depending on what property you or a family member were on at the time of injury. Properties fall into three main categories — commercial, residential and public.
Delaware law defines commercial property as "any lot, structure or portion thereof which is occupied or rented for commercial or industrial purposes." In other words, commercial property refers to buildings and lots used as businesses, not a living space. Commercial property, therefore, could include things like restaurants, shopping centers and retail stores.
Unlike commercial properties, residential properties are buildings for people to use as a designated living space, like a townhouse, apartment or house. Property is not only one unit within a complex, either. Residential properties can include multiple apartments rented or owned by different people who may have different uses or ownership, such as a cooperative, a condominium or a lease rental.
Public property does not belong to one person — any individual or company does not own it, and instead, it belongs to the public at large. Public property covers places owned by a community or the government. There are three main types of public property, including property that has historically been open to the public, property open for a limited purpose or property that is not open to the public.
Property historically open to the public includes public forums like sidewalks, parks and town squares. Property open for only a limited purpose includes places like public schools or universities that have a designated area, like a quad, that is a public forum, while other school or university buildings might stay closed off to the public. School administrators in these cases still have the final say, so you could be held liable for trespass if they find you breaking any rules, especially while school is in session. Any government-owned nonpublic forums like airport terminals, civic centers or stadiums used for private commercial purposes are considered properties that are not open to the public.
Who Is Responsible for the Injuries?
If you or a family member suffer injuries on someone's property, it can sometimes be tricky to determine who is to blame. Although many will want to point to the property owner immediately, it's not always that person's fault. However, property owners do have an inherent duty to protect guests from harm. Still, to claim the property owner didn't exercise a standard of care, leading to dangerous conditions, you must also factor in the injured person's role as a visitor. In these complex cases where it's hard to say who is at fault, it can be challenging to make these determinations alone. A personal injury attorney can assist and bring their professional expertise to help you determine who is at fault.
Property Owners' Responsibilities to Keep a Facility Safe
Property owners are responsible for keeping their environment safe, so people who visit the property do not get injured. Whether the property is public or private, the owner's responsibility for safety is premises liability, which holds them responsible if an accident resulting in an injury does occur on their property. Premises liability claims can come from something as simple as a slip and fall on a sidewalk, and typically claim injuries were a result of a dangerous condition on the property. However, to determine liability, you have to look at the injured's visitor status, the state of the property and the owner's and visitor's actions.
Different Types of Visitors: Invitee, Licensee or Trespasser
Property owners' liability toward your safety depends on what type of visitor you are when you visit their property. If you or a family member suffer injuries on someone's property, you should first establish what type of guest you are to determine how much duty of care the property owner owes you. Delaware law says a person — guest or trespasser — may take legal action against a property owner only if their injuries on the property are a result of intentional acts or willful or wanton disregard. However, the property owner's duty of care will still vary depending on if the injured person is an invitee, licensee or trespasser.
However, property owners should always be aware of any possible unsafe conditions on their property and take the appropriate steps to make sure they don't cause any potential injuries. If the property does have conditions a reasonable person would deem unsafe, it is the property owner's responsibility to let invitees know. Invitees are people an owner has invited onto their property for either a public purpose or a business purpose. For example, an invitee might visit a park for a public purpose or go to a grocery store for a business purpose. Owners should exercise the highest duty of care a property owner can be held to when it comes to invitees visiting their property.
The law does not consider licensees guests or invitees, and instead, they can to lawfully enter the property only after the owner has allowed them to. One way to describe them is as "social guests," and they receive an intermediate level of care — not as much as invitees but more than trespassers. Property owners may still be responsible for any injuries licensees receive on their property if they don't warn licensees of a known and unreasonable risk of harm that licensees could not have expected.
Trespassers are people who enter property without any permission or invitation. Although property owners owe trespassers the lowest possible duty of care, they are still responsible for any conditions that may be ultra-hazardous, like traps.
When people suffer injuries on someone else's property, they often claim it was due to risky conditions. In an injury case, these could include things such as a pothole, an uneven walking surface or a wet floor. Dangerous conditions are not risks only some people can avoid, and instead relate directly to the property. However, to hold the property owner accountable, the person injured must first prove the property owner should have noticed the dangerous condition and taken steps to fix it, but failed to do so.
If the victim is claiming there was a dangerous condition on the property, it must be a condition any reasonable person would consider hazardous and one that would create a substantial risk when owners and guests use the property. For example, if there were wet floor signs inside a store and someone decided to hold a sprinting contest and fell in a commercial property in Delaware, they are not using the property in a foreseeable way.
Plus, you must also look at whether the property owner had enough opportunity to fix the condition before the accident happened. If someone tells an employee that there was a spill in the bathroom and a fall occurs not even a minute later while they are retrieving wet floor signs, things may get a little complicated. An employee or property owner may cause a dangerous condition that leads to injury by leaving an obstacle in the middle of a walking path. It is reasonably foreseeable that someone could trip over it, and the injured person could have a case and claim there was a dangerous condition on the property.
Steps to Take After Getting Injured on Someone Else's Property
If you or a family member get injured on residential, public or commercial property in Delaware, do not wait to act. It is essential to document the accident by gathering evidence and obtaining any necessary reports, seek medical attention and contact an attorney. In Delaware, you have two years to file a claim, but when it comes to legal matters regarding your health and safety, the sooner you act, the better.
1. Seek Medical Attention
After an accident resulting in injury, it is essential to seek medical attention. Even if you think you were possibly injured but did not have any major injuries at the time of the accident, you should still take extra precaution and visit a doctor immediately. In some instances, injuries may not make themselves known immediately, and symptoms may take weeks or even months to develop.
You should also make sure you save all your medical and expense records, because you could receive reimbursement of your medical bills and any other money you spent and damages you suffered as a result of the injury. To prove these damages, keep all your medical records from doctor's office or hospital visits, a detailed history of all procedures performed, if applicable, and any receipts from expenses you had to pay out of pocket, such as any medical equipment or medications.
2. Gather Evidence and Take Photographs
It's also crucial to gather any evidence from the accident and take photos. Without evidence, it can be hard to win a case. However, when preserved, evidence can be very telling and help those who were not present at the accident understand what happened. Although you might not think to immediately take out your phone after being hurt on someone else's property, you should take pictures before moving anything to show the scene of the accident. The photographed proof allows the injured person to demonstrate the dangerous conditions that led to their injury on the property.
Gather or preserve any other relevant evidence, such as clothing and shoes you wore when the accident happened. You should not alter these items in any way, so refrain from washing or cleaning them. Keep them in a safe and secure place. Additionally, talk to any witnesses and get their names and contact information. Even if they didn't see the entire incident unfold, you should still speak to them and collect their details if they can describe the conditions, such as the floor, lighting or any other conditions that could have played a part in the injury.
3. Obtain an Incident Report, Police Report and Medical Reports
If you or a family member suffered an injury while inside a commercial property, you should notify the manager immediately. The law requires managers to fill out an incident report, so make sure you obtain one following your accident. If someone contacts medical personnel, make sure you also get their reports. Since time is of the essence, try to get copies of any medical reports before you leave the property. If you cannot get any copies before you go, make sure you get some as soon as possible. If the injury involved an attack, contact the police and file a police report.
4. Contact an Attorney
You must contact an attorney as soon as possible to receive maximum compensation for your injuries. It is not recommended to sign anything without consulting with a lawyer first. Sometimes following an incident on someone else's property that results in injury, an insurance company or attorney representing the property owner may contact you for additional information regarding your injuries. They may even ask that you sign a release. However, make sure you meet with a personal injury lawyer before signing anything, as they have your best interests in mind and can offer their expertise to give you proper advice. Many personal injury firms operate on a contingency basis, and only receive payment after you get your settlement payment.
What Not to Do After Being Injured on Someone Else's Property
If you or a family member has suffered an injury on someone else's property, there is likely a range of emotions going through your head. However, no matter how you are feeling, there are some things you should avoid following the incident. First, make sure you do not say anything that would imply fault to the property owner. While you will fill out an incident report if the accident occurred on commercial property, be wary of involving too much information that could later imply fault. It is best to stick to the facts of what happened as not to elevate an otherwise contained situation.
Additionally, do not talk to a claim adjuster without reaching out to a lawyer first. Insurance adjusters are specifically trained to get you to settle, and people make many common mistakes when they talk to an insurance adjuster. To make sure you are getting the maximum compensation you deserve, you must seek legal counsel immediately.
Contact Morris James Personal Injury Group to Talk to an Attorney About Your Case
Have you or a family member suffered injuries on someone else's residential or commercial property in Delaware? If so, you could file a civil personal injury lawsuit to get back what you lost as a result of your injuries, such as medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering and more. Trust the legal team with Morris James Personal Injury Group to guide you every step of the way during this process. Our team of nine attorneys has a combined 150-plus years of legal experience relating to personal injury matters, so you can expect honest, expert advice when it comes to your case. At Morris James Personal Injury Group, we understand how impactful injuries can be and offer compassionate counseling and representation. Don't wait to file a civil personal injury lawsuit if you have come to harm on someone's property — schedule your free initial consultation and contact us today.