Each year, thousands of people end up in emergency rooms after serious chair accidents. People fall when chairs collapse, fingers are severed by chairs with jagged edges, and hands get crushed between seats and their bases.
In this section, we look at some common causes of these injuries, who’s responsible, and how to pursue an injury claim.
Injuries in restaurants are common, both at nationwide chain restaurants and small “mom and pop” eateries. Chair accidents are less likely in national chain restaurants due to strict quality control policies. Most chains closely regulate the purchase and maintenance of customer chairs.
Managers in these restaurants are trained to regularly inspect tables, bar stools, chairs, cutlery, and other items which might injure a patron. Broken items will either be repaired or discarded.
Privately owned restaurants are less likely to have the same rigid inspections, maintenance and removal of patron chairs. The chairs and tables in poorly run establishments may have been sitting there for over 20 years!
Chair accidents also occur in beauty salons, arcades, casinos, movie theaters, public libraries, bars, and cafes. Any one of these businesses can be held liable for a patron’s injuries when a chair breaks.
No matter how much attention is paid to make sure chairs are safe, there are occasions when chairs will just break or otherwise malfunction. A screw may loosen, or a chair leg may develop a hairline fracture. A nail may begin to protrude, or a seat may break away from its base. Who’s legally responsible for hazards like these?
The Law and Commercial Chair Injuries
Restaurants, casinos, clubs, and other commercial establishments are not automatically liable if a patron is injured in a chair accident. When deciding whether a business is liable for a patron’s injuries, the courts rely on the legal doctrine of premises liability.
It states that commercial establishments serving the public have a legal duty to ensure their chairs are safe for patrons. If an establishment fails, or “breaches,” its duty, and a patron is injured, it will be held responsible for the patron’s injuries. But the courts look to the injured patron to prove his or her case.
Burden of Proof
To meet the burden of proof, an injured patron must show the following:
- The restaurant knew or should have known the chair was in disrepair or otherwise defective.
- The restaurant failed to repair or remove the chair.
- Their failure to repair or remove the chair (their negligence) was a breach of their duty to keep the patron safe.
- That negligence was the direct and proximate cause of the patron’s injury.
- Those injuries resulted in real damages (such as medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering).
To win a personal injury claim based on a chair accident, you must present as much hard evidence as possible. Here are the most common types of evidence:
Photographs and videos
Photographs are crucial to most personal injury cases. Use the camera on your cell phone to capture the scene and your injuries. Take multiple photographs of the chair itself, the part of the chair which caused your injuries, and the surrounding area. Take photographs of chairs next to yours for comparison purposes.
You can also use the video function on your phone. It’s a good idea to record statements made by the waiters, the manager, and even the bus boy. Hopefully, one or more of them will make an “admission against interest.” This is a statement made by an employee admitting the chair was faulty, or that it had previously caused an injury.
Witness statements are helpful if they present a favorable view of the incident. Independent witnesses, other than your family and friends, are even better. Try to get the contact information of witnesses at the scene, and ask if it’s alright for you to contact them later to take their statement.
A statement doesn’t have to be typewritten or notarized. It’s acceptable as long as the witness signs and dates it.
What you’re hoping to find is a witness who had some knowledge about previous negative experiences with the restaurant, particularly regarding broken chairs, chairs with screws sticking out, seats which came apart, or anything else involving patron injuries.
Simply falling off a broken chair, or being scratched by a protruding screw, is not enough to win a personal injury claim. You must have a real injury, resulting in medical bills. If you don’t have proof of medical treatment, winning a claim will be difficult.
Pain and suffering alone is probably not enough to win a claim, not unless it required medical attention. Gather your receipts, copies of invoices, and other proof of payment for medical treatment related to your injury.
If you went to the emergency room, make sure you request copies of your admitting chart. This should include x-rays and other diagnostic tests used to determine the extent of your injuries, as well as the discharge order.
Also get a copy of the medical chart detailing your follow-up treatment. It will include your doctor’s notes made during the course of your recovery. If your injuries were more serious and required an extended stay in the hospital, be sure to request all records made during your stay.
Dealing with the Insurance Company
When dealing with chain restaurants and other large businesses, your injury, and the circumstances surrounding it, are usually documented by a manager in a written incident report. You don’t have a legal right to a copy of this report. But it will be turned over to their corporate office and insurance company.
Go back to the business and ask the manager whom you should contact about your injury claim. The manager will refer you to a corporate representative or their insurance company. You will ultimately be dealing with the insurance company’s claims adjuster.
The adjuster processes your claim and decides whether or not to offer compensation. If so, you will have to negotiate the final amount.
Should you hire an attorney?
If your injuries are minor, you may be able to handle your own claim. Minor injuries include strains and sprains, cuts and bruises, pulled muscles or tendons, and other similar injuries. If your injuries are more serious, such as broken bones, amputations, or back injuries, you will need the counsel of an experienced personal injury attorney.
Serious injury cases often proceed to the lawsuit stage. Depositions of waiters, managers, and other restaurant employees will probably need to be taken. Remember that incident report we spoke of earlier? Your attorney can subpoena that report, along with any other company records which may be necessary for your case.
An experienced injury attorney knows exactly how to get the highest possible settlement. An attorney can file a lawsuit, engage in pretrial discovery, and argue your case at trial – all things you can’t do on your own.
Gather copies of all your evidence and make appointments with several injury attorneys. Most offer free initial consultations. Personal injury attorneys work on a contingency basis, meaning you won’t have to pay any legal fees in advance.
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