Generally, workers’ compensation insurance does not cover injuries which occur before work, during lunch, during breaks, or after work, even if the injury occurred at the worksite. This exclusion is often good news for victims. Negligence claims are more difficult to prove in court, but if they are successful, victims are entitled to additional compensation.
Because falls are the most common kind of work break injury, this post focuses on slip-and-fall injuries, which occur during non-work hours. Other injuries include anaphylactic reactions to certain foods and injuries related to negligent security (e.g. an assault which takes place in a dark parking lot after work).
In both work-related and non-work-related injuries, effective representation is essential. Workers’ compensation is no fault insurance, but these claims are quite complex. Insurance company interests dominate the workers’ compensation bureaucracy. In standard civil claims, insurance companies have several lawyers looking out for their interests. It’s almost impossible to obtain fair compensation without a lawyer.
To determine level of responsibility, traditional premises liability law divides victims into invitees, licensees, and trespassers. The extent of duty generally determined on the relationship between the owner and victim.
Many states still use this system. But in 1995, Illinois lawmakers replaced this category-based approach with a more straightforward model. A slip-and-fall victim in Rockford is in one of the following two categories:
- Legal Entrant: Almost every victim in Illinois is a legal entrant. These individuals have direct permission (please come to dinner on Saturday) or indirect permission (an “open” sign) to be on the premises. As such, the owners have a duty of reasonable care to keep these individuals safe.
- Non-Legal Entrant: This category replaced the pejorative term “trespasser.” Simply stated, non-legal entrants have no permission to be on the land. Therefore, the owners have no legal duty, at least in most cases. Stories of injured burglars who sue homeowners are mostly urban legends.
Procedurally, legal responsibility is a legal question for the judge. The judge typically hears evidence and arguments on this subject during a pretrial hearing. During the trial, the judge tells the jury what standard of care to apply.
Knowledge of the Hazard
Liability for damages attaches if the owner knew or should have known about the hazard which caused the fall. Typically, attorneys partner with private investigators to obtain the needed evidence. Additionally, during the lawsuit’s discovery phase, the insurance company must turn over evidence of knowledge. However, an attorney must know the right questions to ask and the right way to ask them.
Direct evidence of actual knowledge includes smoking guns like restroom cleaning reports, floor cleaning reports, and repair estimates, which mention uneven floors, burned-out lights, and other fall hazards.
Circumstantial evidence of constructive knowledge (should have known) typically revolves around the time-notice rule. Think about a piece of lettuce on a cafeteria floor. If the lettuce was dry and wilted, it had probably been on the floor for some time. In that case, a cafeteria employee should have picked it up. The duty of care includes safety inspections.
On the other hand, if the lettuce was crisp and wet, it probably just fell on the floor. Therefore, constructive knowledge does not attach.
Damages in a slip-and-fall case typically include compensation for economic losses, such as medical bills, and non-economic losses, such as pain and suffering. These same damages are generally available in other premises liability matters, such as the previously mentioned assaults and anaphylactic reactions.
Contact a Tenacious Attorney
Slip-and-fall victims are often entitled to substantial compensation if the injury occurred during a work break. For a free consultation with an experienced Rockford personal injury lawyer, contact Fisk & Monteleone, Ltd. We do not charge upfront legal fees in these cases.