Imagine you want to pursue your own slip and fall injury settlement after getting seriously injured in a store (as an example we'll call it "Sweeny's Supermarket"). This page gives important tips about how to open your insurance claim and write your initial notification letter.
To begin the slip and fall injury settlement process you must first notify the store (or other public or private place) where you were injured. Sending an email is not enough. Sending a Certified Letter "Return Receipt Requested" is the proper way to formally begin the settlement process.
When writing your letter it's important to use the correct terminology. There are some words and phrases you should use to sound professional. Using proper terminology will give your letter added credibility and let the insurance company know you mean business. All the terms below are regularly used by insurance companies and attorneys.
You may notice in the slip and fall injury settlement letter below there are some statements which appear to stand out. There is a purpose for this. Look at these examples...
"The day was dry and cool." Make it clear it wasn't raining and you did not drip water onto the floor as you were standing there. If it was raining, the store might say, "The floor was dry. It was raining so you must have brought the water in yourself."
"Then I walked over to the vegetable aisle. As I was slowly moving down the aisle..." Clearly state you were walking slowly and carefully. A store will often say the claimant was running or moving carelessly at the time they were injured.
"I had been at the gym earlier that day and I still had on my sweats and running shoes." This immediately preempts the store from saying, "Well, maybe she had on new shoes and the soles were slick, causing her to slip." By letting them know in advance you were wearing running shoes, which by their nature are not slippery, you immediately remove the assertion your own shoes caused you to slip and fall.
"I didn't need one of the large shopping carts." You want to mention this so they can't say, "How could she have fallen so quickly and so hard? If she was holding onto the shopping cart it would have broken her fall." You were only there to pick up some cereal and vegetables for dinner. There was no reason to push around a large shopping cart which you might have grabbed to prevent you from a serious fall.
The above are all good "tips" to strengthen your personal injury claim and make the company take it seriously. Some may apply to you, some may not. It's more important to understand the overriding principle of trying to minimize or eliminate any contributory liability on your part. Are there any other statements you can think of that could work with your own slip and fall injury settlement case? Use them in your letter.
In most slip and fall injury settlement cases, especially those in franchised stores and large independent chain stores, an Incident Report is made by the manager or owner. They will need the report for their insurance purposes. While not all of these stores will give you ready access to their incident reports, it's always a good idea to ask. If they don't give you a copy at the time of the incident, you can send a friend or loved one to the store a few days after the incident to ask for a copy. The worst they can do is say no. You may be surprised though that many times they will accommodate you.
Don't worry about trying to decide if you are supposed to send the letter to the corporate headquarters in Kalamazoo, Nebraska or some other place. Some people say you should call the Secretary of State's Office in your State Capital to find out who is the "Registered Agent" for Sweeny's. That's lawyer stuff and has nothing to do with what you are doing now.
Simply send the letter Certified Return Receipt Requested to the store where you fell. The rest is up to them.
With a working understanding of the correct terminology you are now ready to write the letter to Sweeny's Supermarket. It is important to make sure the letter contains the following...
(1) A sentence or two confirming the day and date of the incident.
(2) A statement confirming where you were and what you were doing immediately before the incident (e.g. walking down the produce aisle).
(3) A clear statement confirming Sweeny's action (in this case inaction) which led to your slipping and falling. Refer to the store as "Sweeny's" or whatever the store name happens to be.
(4) An initial listing of the damages you have already suffered and may continue to suffer. These include, but are not limited to: pain and discomfort, mental anguish, loss of wages, doctors bills, chiropractor bills, etc. Don't include specific costs. The total costs will be discussed later in your slip and fall injury settlement demand letter.
(5) Conclude by telling Sweeny's to turn over your letter to their insurance company immediately and remind them of the consequences if they don't.
Remember, this is the Notification Letter, not the demand letter. At this stage you have just recently been injured and only just begun your treatment and recovery. Once you fully recover or are close to recovery you will calculate a total settlement amount. At that time you will send a Demand Letter to the company's insurance carrier.
Below is a SAMPLE letter of notification:
(Your Name and Address) MRS. SUZANNE T. PIERCE
15562 Ellington Avenue
Dallas, TX 75247
Telephone: (214) 689-XXX9
January 14th, 2011 (Date of Letter)
Sweeny's Supermarket (Name of Business/Property Owner)
1243 Ventura Highway
Blue Point, NY 11772
Re: SWEENY'S STORE NO. 804 (Location of Incident)
1815 Marsh Lane
Dallas, TX 75247-4393
My name is Suzanne T. Pierce and I live in Dallas, Texas. On January 5th, 2011 while shopping at your store on 1815 Marsh Lane in Dallas I was seriously injured. I have since learned the number assigned to that store is #804.
It was about 2:00pm. The day was dry and cool. I had been at the gym earlier that day and I still had on my sweats and running shoes. I was on my way to pick up my children from school at 3:15pm. I was early so I decided to stop at Sweeny's to do some food shopping.
Because I was going to prepare salads for dinner that evening I didn't need one of the large shopping carts. I took one of the hand held baskets available when you enter the store. I first went to the cereal aisle to pick up some cereal. Then I walked over to the vegetable aisle. As I was slowly moving down the aisle I noticed the mist used to keep the vegetables fresh was turned on.
I was just about halfway down the aisle when suddenly and without warning my legs went out from under me. As they did I fell backwards and finally landed on my lower back. When I fell my head slammed into the hard floor. The cereal and few vegetables I had in my basket flew everywhere, as did the basket itself.
When I came down on my back and slammed my head into the floor the first sensation I experienced was excruciating pain. I felt like someone had taken a baseball bat and hit me across my back as hard as they could. My head felt as if I was underwater with a dull, throbbing pain.
Fortunately one of the shoppers saw what happened and came to my side. Apparently others called out for the manager. While lying there in pain I began to think that I must be bleeding heavily, because my sweats were soaking wet. As the seconds passed I kept going in and out of consciousness. I do remember the paramedics slipping a board underneath me and then putting around my neck what I now know was a cervical collar.
I remember asking how badly I was bleeding. The paramedic said to me, "You're not bleeding. You're just soaked with water".
The woman who had earlier come to my aid had given the paramedics a piece of paper with her name and telephone number on it. Under her telephone number she had scribbled the words "I'm a witness."
I was taken by ambulance to the Emergency Room at Parkland Hospital in Dallas. The doctor sent me up to have an MRI (Magnetic Resonance Image). He also ordered a CAT Scan (Computerized Axial Tomography) for my head.
I remained at Parkland Hospital overnight for observation. The next day, January 6th, I was released. The Doctor told us the X-rays were clear. The MRI though showed a herniated disk in my lower back. He told us there was a 90% chance I would not need surgery and that with bed rest it would eventually heal.
I told him I was a hair stylist and had to be on my feet most of the day using my arms and hands to style hair. He said if I didn't rest at home for at least two weeks there was a significant chance the disk would not heal properly. He prescribed Flexeril for muscle spasms and Hydrocoedine for any pain.
During my recovery period at home I suffered from depression and anxiety directly related to my pain and discomfort, as well as my inability to work or care for my husband and children.
My Doctor also prescribed therapy for my back. He referred me to a Chiropractor. After my initial recovery period at home I continued to suffer pain and discomfort, together with bouts of depression and anxiety. I am continuing physical therapy at my Chiropractor and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future.
On January 5th, 2011 at store #804 in Dallas, Texas I slipped and fell causing my life to change immeasurably. I fell because your misting system caused water to accumulate on the floor by the vegetables. Because it was clear water I could not see it. There were no pylons, nor was the wet area cordoned off.
Although the store has many employees none of them had mopped up the water. I find it incredulous that with the many employees in the store not one of them saw that the floor was dangerously wet. The water must have been accumulating for some time.
Sweeny's was utterly negligent in allowing the water to accumulate to such a dangerous level. It was further negligent in not setting up pylons or cordoning off the wet area so as to advise the public of the dangerous conditions.
As a direct and proximate result of your negligence I suffered, and will continue to suffer pain and discomfort into the foreseeable future. I will require additional Doctors' visits and further observation.
As a further result of your negligence I was unable to work for two (2) weeks. I make $7.00 dollars an hour as an hourly employee. I also work on tips. My average weekly earnings have been about six hundred ($600.00) dollars. I am able to substantiate this by the weekly deposit slips into my checking account.
During my initial recovery any sudden movement in my bed caused pain to shoot up my spine. As a result my husband was relegated to sleeping on the couch for two weeks.
As a direct and proximate result of Sweeny's negligence I suffered, and will continue to suffer:
Please give this matter appropriate attention. I will look forward to hearing from someone in authority from Sweeny's, Inc. within thirty (30) days of your receipt of this letter.
My bills continue to mount, and my pain and discomfort continues. I am confident this matter can be settled amicably and without my need for counsel. If it can not be, then regretfully I will seek all available remedies under the law.
Suzanne T. Pierce
Let's assume you've worked hard writing and sent your Notification Letter to Sweeny's. When you get confirmation that Sweeny's has received your Certified Letter, mark the day on your calendar. Within a few weeks you should be contacted by a representative of Sweeny's Insurance Company.
The person who will contact you is called a Claims Adjuster. A good idea is to have read your Notification Letter many times before the Adjuster calls. You want to be consistent in your statements about what happened right down to the finest detail. Doing so will make you appear professional and will go a long way in helping your claim.
The Adjuster will ask you for a recorded statement, usually over the telephone. She is not trying to trick you. Just go ahead and answer her questions truthfully. If she asks you to tell her in your own words what happened that day, don't minimize your pain and discomfort. If you felt excruciating pain when you fell then remember to say that.
Read over your Notification Letter several times after you've mailed it. An insurance adjuster will eventually contact you and you want to be sure to use the same terms and descriptive language you used in the letter. Tell the truth, but if the recorded statement varies from your letter it will not bode well for your settlement negotiations.
To learn more about slip and fall injury settlements read this page with a sample DEMAND letter.