In 1987, when I was a newlywed and still very young and naive, I waitressed at a small, pretentious restaurant on the top floor of a mall department store – then owned by a major Utah Church organization.
Like other restaurants, the doors between the kitchen and dining room swung both ways and restaurant staff entered and exited to the right whether they were coming in or going out, in order to keep traffic flowing rapidly without accidental run-ins. The dishwasher’s station was just inside the in-door to the kitchen. Being older and wiser now, I now have to assume that was either an infraction of some sort of safety code or, perhaps, the code has since changed because…HOW STUPID IS THAT?!
I had been in the kitchen just a couple minutes previous and the floor was relatively dry and clean. But on my way back into the kitchen, carrying a tray loaded with dirty dishes I bussed from my own tables, I slipped in a giant puddle of water and slimy food garbage that had backed up from the drain in the dishwasher’s station.
Of course waitresses NEVER run, but we do walk fast – it’s part of the unwritten “job description.” If you’re not fast and efficient, you lose tips and eventually your job. I was wearing shoes approved by my supervisor at the time I was trained, just after I was hired, and was adhering to all of the procedures from my training.
Well, I had no idea conditions just inside the kitchen in-door had changed, and so quickly. As I walked in, I slipped and fell on my lower back and hit the back of my head on the floor. It knocked the wind out of me and I passed out.
After I was conscious and able to breathe again, I was in incredible pain and unable to move. Some of the restaurant staff, including my supervisor, gathered around me to find out if I was okay. When I couldn’t get up on my own right away, they pulled me up – again, incredibly painful! – and hauled me to the department store management office where they laid me on a couch.
My supervisor was there in the office, as well as what I assumed were some of the department store management. I was sobbing and begging them to call my husband to come get me (this was pre-cell phone era, at least for ordinary people such as myself).
My husband was home asleep, having worked graveyard shift the night before. They wouldn’t make the call or allow me to call home until I signed a form taking full responsibility for the accident and releasing the company from all liability. It seemed the form was conveniently on hand and most of the details had been pre-written, even considering the sudden and unpredicted nature of the situation.
I knew that wasn’t right because it wasn’t my fault the drain backed up and the garbage and water were on the floor just inside the door. I hadn’t done anything wrong – nothing I hadn’t been trained to do. But I was kept surrounded, uncomfortably close, by well-dressed, condescending office employees who pressured me, relentlessly, to sign the form. I finally relented and signed it just so I could call my husband and go home.
I was out of work and stuck in bed for a few days when my supervisor called and said if I didn’t get back to work immediately, back injury and all, I would be fired. So I went back to work, barely able to walk, and was stationed behind the coffee counter (it was a religious-owned restaurant, so it was called “the fountain” – they don’t drink coffee) for a couple weeks before my supervisor told me I had to take my regular station again or be fired, even though I was still hobbling around in pain.
I worked there for about a year, altogether. Because they coerced me into lying about my tips so they wouldn’t have to pay me the legal minimum wage, I finally found a relatively better job and quit. The restaurant was frequented mostly by stingy little old rich ladies who were there to get their hair done at the salon or shop with their grandchildren and typically tipped a dime for the entire table–literally!
The “good” tippers sometimes gave me a quarter. I rarely saw a dollar bill. All of the waitresses were in the same boat I was too. I was a young, naive, poor, uninsured newlywed at the time, working to put my then husband through college, so I never did see a doctor about the injury.
My back was never the same after that. From time to time it suddenly “quits” on me, such that I’m in immense pain, can’t walk upright (or at all), and have incredible difficulty getting up or down from a sitting or laying down position. It’s unbearable at times.
I was 20 then; I’m now 43, a single mom, and a poor, uninsured college student. Things have just become more and more difficult with time and I don’t have the means to get medical attention for my back when needed (my then husband never considered my back problems a priority, even later when we were insured).
I’m no longer able to hold down any kind of job that requires lifting, bending over a lot, or being on my feet OR sitting for long periods of time because I have too many down days with my bad lower back. I don’t suppose anything can be done about it 24 years later, but if I’d known then what I know now, I would have sued them for the medical care I needed and never got.
Is there ANYTHING I can do? Thanks for any info you can give.
Disclaimer: Our response is not formal legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship. It is generic legal information based on the very limited information provided. Do not rely upon the information in our response, or anywhere else on this site, when deciding the proper course of a legal matter. Always get a personalized case review from a local attorney.
As we are sure you have been told too many times, in the State of Utah the Statute of Limitations, or legal time period within which to file a private personal injury lawsuit is 2 years.
Even if we were to consider the undue coercion applied to you on that terrible day, the time to have filed suit has passed long ago.
Not wanting to make you feel worse, even if there was some legal way to sue them now some 24 years later their defense would be that a zillion other factors over a 24 year time period could have contributed to or caused your current and persistent pain and discomfort.
Hypocrisy, especially in religion can be a dangerous state of affairs. If it is any comfort you know what really happened that day, and those who may have perpetrated the coercion, if they have any sense of fairness and justice, know it too.
Learn more here: Personal Injury Laws by State
The above is general information. Laws change frequently, and across jurisdictions. You should get a personalized case evaluation from a licensed attorney.
Best of luck with your claim,
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