Slips, trips and injury compensation

It might be a regular feature of slapstick comedy, but slipping, tripping and falling is no joke. Anyone with a broken bone or other serious injury can tell you about the sudden dramatic change of lifestyle that results. Apart from the pain, contending with all the little things you could do without thinking before, becomes slow, difficult or impossible. Depending on the injury, mounting medical bills and disruption to your work and income may mean you need to start thinking about whether you’re eligible for compensation.

How slips and trips happen

Every year, thousands of people slip or trip and fall. Australia-wide, about 25,000 serious workplace injuries a year result from falling, according to the latest workers’ compensation statistics.

And work is not the only place where it can happen. Slips and trips are just as likely to happen when people are shopping, going up or down stairs, or during recreational activities.

The most common causes of slips and falls are slippery floors, especially if they’re wet, oily, icy, dusty or highly polished. Obstacles in walkways, uneven surfaces, changes in floor levels and inappropriate footwear can also play a part.

Recent cases illustrate the types of incidents in which such mishaps can result in serious injuries:
• A disabled woman walking with the aid of crutches slipped and fell when the tip of her crutch slid on a greasy chip that had been dropped on the floor in a shopping centre, causing severe injuries to her spine.
• Slipping on a wet bathroom floor at a licensed hotel left a man with a fractured ankle.
• Serious burns were inflicted upon an apprentice in the hospitality industry when he slipped and fell while carrying uncovered buckets of hot stock up stairs.
• A puddle of water next to the freezer section in a supermarket attracted the attention of a shop assistant who went to get a warning sign. Before she could return, a customer had slipped and fallen.
• A woman caught her foot on a rubber strip attached to a speed hump in a poorly-lit carpark, fell and fractured her ankle.

Resulting injuries from falls

Many injuries are relatively slight, but often the injuries are very serious and can have long-term consequences.

Ankles, knees and backs are the most common sites of injury, but if a person hits their head when they fall, brain damage could also occur.

Entitlement to compensation

If you slipped and fell at work, you may be able to claim workers’ compensation for your injury. Business owners have a duty of care towards their workers and others affected by the work. This means the premises have to be kept safe and be safely accessible, by attending to floor surfaces and other relevant factors such as lighting and walkways. Good housekeeping requires that spills need to be promptly spotted and cleaned up.

The median workers’ compensation payments for injuries caused by slips, trips and falls on the same level is around $8,700.

Another possibility is that you might be able to claim damages from the owner or person in control of the place where you fell. This depends on whether it can be shown that the owner’s negligence was responsible for your accident. If a court finds the owner’s negligence caused the injury, the injured party can be awarded a substantial sum in damages. It depends on the severity of the injury of course, but six-figure sums are not unusual.

Establishing who was at fault

The entitlement to damages will be reduced, however, if the court decides that the injured person was partly responsible for what happened, because they didn’t take reasonable care for their own safety. This is called contributory negligence and will mean that payouts are trimmed by the percentage the injured person is deemed to be at fault. If they are found to be 30% at fault, their payout will be reduced by 30%.

Getting the best outcome

The involvement of an experienced legal professional can make all the difference to the result of a claim for damages. A lawyer who specialises in cases of this sort will be able to spot both the opportunities and the weaknesses of your case. If your injuries are serious, talking to a lawyer with experience in cases of this kind can ensure your injuries are properly assessed, a strong negotiating team is on your side and your interests are represented to best effect.

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