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TORT REPORT: Documenting accidents in premises liability cases

Matthew Rosek is a partner at McCoy Law Group SC, Waukesha.

For commercial property owners or managers, properly documenting an accident can be critical to defending a premises liability case.

Unfortunately, for most, the question is not if an accident will happen on your property, but when. When an accident does happen, you should have a reporting policy and accident report form to rely on. Training of employees or lessees is also important.

Here are a few tips to follow when the inevitable happens:

First, create a form that all employees can easily follow to retrieve key information about the accident. The name of the claimant, an address and a phone number are critical. The form should include a section to note the time, date and other conditions present. If the accident occurred outside, notes should be taken regarding any precipitation and temperature and any other relevant conditions. Employees should be encouraged to note anything that seems important.

Second, take down names, phone numbers and statements from any witnesses. Most premises liability cases are slip and fall or trip and fall accidents. Often times there are no witnesses to these events, making the claimant the only witness to the accident. If there was a person nearby that saw the accident or if someone came by after the fact to help, take down that person’s name and phone number.

Third, take a photograph of the area where the accident happened. Multiple photos would be a great idea and should include the place where the accident happened and the surrounding area. Property owners should instruct employees to take photos of anything unusual or out of place. The old adage of a picture is worth a thousand words is very true and in the litigation context may change the context of the entire case. In a case I tried several years ago, a picture of the area surrounding a slip and fall accident proved invaluable. It made the case and I received a complete defense verdict for my client.

Finally, preserve any videos or other evidence related to the accident. If your property has video cameras, pull the tapes. If there was a box, board or some other object that caused someone to fall, save it.

Documenting the accident and being sure all evidence is preserved can be a key part of the case.

Most premises liability cases are defensible and many times it was the actions of the injured party that led to the incident. Documenting the accident and collecting reliable and contemporaneous information and facts will help ensure a defense verdict.

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