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Here’s What You Need to Know Legally After a Slip and Fall at Work

If you are injured in your place of work, one of the first things that may come to mind is workers’ compensation. In New York State, virtually all businesses are required to carry workers’ compensation coverage for their employees. There is no need to prove negligence on the part of your employer in order to succeed with a workers’ compensation claim—if you were injured in the workplace or while otherwise on the job, you will be able to claim workers’ compensation regardless of fault.

You may have been told that this no-fault system of compensation means that you cannot sue your employer for a workplace injury except in very rare instances.  In the event that negligence occurred, workers’ compensation serves the purpose of a lawsuit where your employer is concerned—a legal tenet known as the “exclusive remedy” doctrine.

But don’t let the name of this doctrine confuse you—the fact that you cannot sue your employer does not mean that you cannot sue anyone. If you have reason to believe that your injury was caused by negligence, you should carefully examine the circumstances and consider whether you may have grounds for a third-party lawsuit.

A third-party lawsuit is a lawsuit filed against an entity that is not your employer, but that may nonetheless be wholly or partly responsible for negligence you experience on the job. Contractors operating at your workplace, the owner of the building where you work (if the building is not owned by your employer), and manufacturers distributing faulty equipment are just a few examples of third parties who may bear a share of the responsibility for an injury you suffer at work.

You should be aware that filing a third-party lawsuit won’t interfere with your ability to claim workers’ compensation. Whether your lawsuit is successful or not, your right to workers’ compensation remains in place.

Need to Know

  • According to the “exclusive remedy” doctrine, workers’ compensation serves the purpose of a lawsuit if an employee is injured due to negligence on the part of the employer, meaning that you cannot sue your employer for negligence.
  • In some situations, a person injured due to negligence in the workplace may be able to file a third-party lawsuit against another defendant responsible for that negligence.
  • Filing a third-party lawsuit will not interfere with your ability to claim workers’ compensation.

In This Article

Slip and Fall vs. Trip and Fall: Know the Difference

Although you may have heard the legal terms “slip and fall” and “trip and fall” spoken interchangeably in casual conversation, to a lawyer the two categories are distinct, and differentiating them matters. It’s important to get an idea of which category your case may fall under so that you can proceed as effectively as possible.

  • A trip and fall accident typically occurs when the victim’s foot encounters an obstacle: raised surfaces, sidewalk flags, loose cables, and objects sticking out of the floor all present opportunities for trips. A typical trip propels the victim face-forward onto the ground.
  • A slip and fall accident, by contrast, occurs when the victim’s foot loses the friction necessary to maintain balance. This may occur because of water or ice on a surface, because the victim stepped on an object that was not part of the surface (i.e. a discarded wrapper or flyer left on the floor), or simply because the surface itself lacks adequate friction to serve as a walking area. A slip usually sends the foot forward, causing the victim to fall backward.

Legal Challenges of Slip and Fall Accidents

When it comes to documentation, slip and fall accidents tend to be more time-sensitive than trip and fall accidents. This is because the factors that lead to slip and fall are often transient, such as a weather event, a stray piece of litter, or a liquid spill on a floor. They also tend to be less readily apparent to other observers, meaning that, if you fail to document your slip and fall accident and the factor which caused it has been cleaned up, you may be less likely to find another witness to confirm your story.

If your accident was caused by a weather event, such as snow or rain, you should further be aware of New York State’s “Storm in Progress” doctrine, which limits the responsibility of a premise owner to prevent slip and fall accidents during an ongoing storm. This includes water that was tracked in from outdoors, provided that the storm that caused it remains in progress. This solidifies the importance of establishing the time and date of your incident, as well as the specific cause. (If, for instance, you slipped on a newly-mopped floor because the cleaning crew failed to place a “Wet Floor” sign, it will be immaterial whether a storm was in progress outside.)

Documenting a Slip and Fall Accident at Work

Whether you decide to make a workers’ compensation claim, pursue a third-party lawsuit, or both, it will be important to document your slip and fall accident as quickly as possible.

  • If you can, take photographs of the scene immediately following the incident. Create a clear record of what caused the injury to occur. Ideally, take both close-up images and wider shots depicting the entire scene, capturing both the details of the accident and the context in which they appear. The camera on your smartphone should be sufficient to do the job.
  • Create an internal report of the incident right away. Find someone in a position of authority within the building, tell them the details, and politely request that they generate an incident report. Report the injury to your immediate supervisor as well.
  • Make sure that you can clearly recall the circumstances that led to the incident. If you complain of a slip, but do not know what caused it, you will not have a convincing case. Recalling the date (and, ideally, the time) will be particularly important if your slip was caused by a weather event such as snow or rain, or if the injury was caused by workers operating at specific hours (for example, a contracted cleaning crew that appears weekly on Monday and Wednesday evenings).
  • Look for security cameras, and attempt to determine whether security footage of the incident exists. A good attorney will take steps to help you secure the footage in the event that it is needed as evidence.

Determining Third-Party Liability

Even if you already have some idea of who—other than your employer—may be liable in a slip and fall incident, it is important to retain a lawyer early. Your attorney will conduct research and help to answer questions that you may be unclear on, such as who holds ownership over an office building.

A good attorney will also offer additional perspectives on who may be liable, which will be particularly critical in the event of joint and several liability, in which multiple defendants may be held accountable. For example, when one client of Block O’Toole and Murphy—an electrical foreman employed by a subcontractor—suffered injuries after a fall due to unsafe conditions on a stairway landing, we were able to pursue claims against the owner of the building, the general contractor, and the company that had installed the staircase.

Negligence does not cease to be negligence because it occurs while you are doing your job. The attorneys at Block O’Toole and Murphy have years of experience in advocating for workers in all five boroughs of New York City and throughout New York State. Contact us by calling 212-736-5300 or filling out our online contact form.

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