Learn why having a witness is valuable to your slip and fall claim and what you need to know about getting a good witness statement.
About 20 percent of fall victims suffer serious injuries like broken bones or a head injury. In 2015, the total medical expenses for falls in the U.S. was over $50 billion.¹
Injured people can be saddled with mounting medical bills and other medical-related expenses after a slip and fall accident.
But what if your injuries were preventable? What if your slip and fall accident happened because someone else was negligent? The negligent property owner can be made to pay for your losses.
When your fall occurred because of negligence, you have the right to file an insurance claim against the property owner’s policy. When you do, the insurance company will investigate your slip and fall claim.
Insurance adjusters want to verify your injuries, and they want to make sure that your accident happened the way you said it did. Most adjusters try hard to deny a claim or pay as little as possible for it.
Witness statements can help prevent adjusters from nitpicking and denying your injury claim.
Your claim is likely to have more value if you have at least one reliable witness. A reliable witness is a person who can accurately describe what occurred before, during, and after your slip and fall.
Types of Witnesses For Slip and Fall Claims
In a personal injury case, there are two types of witnesses. One is an eyewitness who was at the accident scene when an injury occurred. The other is an expert witness.
An eyewitness will know the facts of an injury case because they personally observed how the injury occurred.
Examples of an eyewitness in a slip and fall case include:
- Shoppers or customers in a store
- A passerby
- A store employee
Slip and fall victims can help their claim by finding any eyewitnesses to the accident. As we discuss below, the goal then is to get a statement from them regarding what they saw. It’s also important to get their contact information.
The second type of witness is an expert witness. This witness provides expert knowledge about a case and helps clarify the facts of a case – including someone’s injuries.
For example, if you suffered a traumatic brain injury from a slip and fall, your attorney might hire a medical expert to explain the long-term effects of the injury on your ability to work.
Unless you suffer severe slip and fall injuries, it’s unlikely that you’ll need an expert witness. However, a good eyewitness can be vital to the success of your claim.
What Makes a Good Eyewitness?
In slip and fall cases, the property owner’s insurance company is more likely to offer you a fair settlement with a strong witness on your side.
Some witnesses are more believable than others. If a witness isn’t trustworthy, they won’t help your case.
Also, it’s best to rely on witnesses you didn’t know before your slip and fall, if possible. Any witness is better than no witness, but impartial witness testimony is more convincing.
If you did know a witness before your accident occurred (e.g., someone who was with you when you fell), then an adjuster might find them less believable. An adjuster will assume your friend or family member is inclined to intentionally give a statement that works in your favor.
A good witness is a person who:
- Was near the incident when it happened
- Didn’t know the injured person before the accident took place
- Doesn’t have a personal bias about the victim or the property owner
- Doesn’t have a personal or financial interest in the claim’s outcome
- Gives specific details
Limit your contact with independent witnesses after your accident. You don’t want to give the impression of trying to influence their testimony.
What Witnesses Should Avoid When Giving Statements
Good witnesses give detailed testimony of the facts. Non-factual statements can dilute the effectiveness of their testimony.
Witness testimony should not include:
- Guesses – Anything not personally observed is a guess. A witness shouldn’t guess, but they can write or talk about anything they observed.
- Opinions – It’s not up to the witness to decide what happened. A statement shouldn’t include arguments, personal opinions, or quick conclusions. A witness should only write or talk about the facts.
- Feelings – A witness statement must remain neutral. Feelings about the outcome of the claim or sympathy for the victim have no place in a witness statement.
Guesses, personal opinions, or attitudes about the victim, property owner, or employees don’t add reliable or useful information to a claim.
Example of a Biased and Opinionated Witness Statement:
I was eating lunch in the outdoor seating area of a café. A man walked by with his cell phone in his hand, and it looked like he was on social media.
I remember thinking that he should’ve been paying more attention. In fact, I recall saying to myself that he was close to causing an accident (either to himself or someone else).
The man was probably coming from the bar next to the café.
As I watched him walk away, he tripped over a cracked and raised area in the cement. He didn’t yell or scream, so he probably wasn’t hurt.
My husband works for the city, and he said they never repair the sidewalks when they should. It’s very annoying.
In this example, the witness added her own opinions, assumptions, and emotions. She also seems biased against the person who fell. Her statement also lacks some critical details, like the event’s day and time and the weather conditions.
Also, the witness only gave the first letter of her last name and failed to provide an email or personal address. This lack of identity could make it tricky to contact the witness at a later date.
Witnesses Add Credibility
Witnesses add value to a claim because they help verify your story of what happened. Granted, other evidence of your fall may do this, but that evidence isn’t always available.
For example, although surveillance cameras are everywhere these days, not all slip and fall accidents are on video. Even if your fall was on camera, the footage might not reveal the entire situation.
A witness statement helps provide an objective perspective of the events surrounding a slip and fall accident. Objective means that the witness doesn’t have any personal biases or reasons not to tell the truth. The witness is a neutral party.
Insurance investigators use witness statements to help determine how the accident happened and to see if your version of the truth is believable. They’re especially helpful when there are conflicting versions regarding the facts of a case.
In addition, a property owner is only responsible for a slip and fall injury if they had notice or knowledge of the dangerous condition that caused the accident. For example, the owner or its employee must have known that something needed to be fixed or cleaned.
A witness statement can help show that an owner had this knowledge, or at least should have had it. Often, after an individual falls, an eyewitness will say, “I almost just fell there too.”
A witness might say they just told the property owner or an employee to:
- Mop up a spill
- Fix a crumpled floor mat
- Make a repair
- Put up a warning sign
A witness statement is often the key to establish that an owner knew or should’ve known about the problem and didn’t fix it or warn others.
Further, injury claimants also have to prove that a slip and fall accident did, in fact, cause the injuries they say they are suffering from. Eyewitnesses can help prove this element of a personal injury claim as well.
For example, a witness can say that:
- There was blood on the floor after the victim fell
- The victim winced in pain after hitting the ground
- The victim immediately grabbed an ankle after falling
Get Witness Statements Quickly
Whenever possible, the witness should provide their statement immediately after the incident or as soon as they can. A witness’s memory can easily fade as time moves on.
A disputed slip and fall injury claim can take months or even years to resolve. If this is the case, and a witness must recall details of the actual event, a written statement helps the witness recall what happened. Statements can refresh their memory and allow them to give true, accurate, and clear facts about what they saw.
A witness statement offers a detailed explanation of:
- What the witness observed
- Specific facts about the accident
Getting a Witness Statement
It’s essential to get the witness’s statement as soon as possible after a slip and fall occurs, preferably at the scene of the accident.
Witness statements should include relevant information about the who, what, when, and where of the incident. Witness statements with the highest number of accurate details carry the most weight in an injury claim.
Witness statements should include information about:
- How the slip and fall occurred based on their observations
- The victim’s injuries
- Property damage caused in the accident
The witness should also detail other related information, such as weather conditions, construction, noticeable hazards on the floor, or the behaviors of anyone involved, depending on where the accident occurred.
Example of a Helpful Independent Witness Statement:
February 19, 2019
I came to the hospital today to visit my grandmother. At approximately 2:20 p.m., as I was walking towards the north elevator tower, I noticed a big blue machine that a hospital employee was driving.
The employee had a blue polo shirt with “Northridge Medical Center” embroidered on the right upper chest and an employee badge. As he drove the machine, the linoleum floor looked shiny and wet behind it. It looked like he was using the machine to clean the floor.
A young woman came walking around the corner onto the floor he had just cleaned. She fell backward, grabbing the handrail on the wall on her way down with her right hand.
When she landed on the floor, her left hand was behind her.
The woman immediately screamed and sounded like she was in pain. She rolled onto her right side holding her left wrist with her right hand.
The hospital employee, myself, and another male bystander ran towards her. The employee kept saying, “I’m so sorry!” He pulled out his work cell phone to call for help.
Another employee wearing a suit and an employee badge came to the scene. He called for a stretcher and paramedics from the emergency room.
All this time, the woman was screaming and moaning. As the paramedics wheeled her away from the scene, the man in the suit began to yell at the other male employee. I’m unsure of what he said.
There was a pool of blood on the floor where the woman’s head was, approximately 3 inches by 5 inches.
The top portion of the handrail ripped away from the wall, and a screw was on the floor next to the wall.
1456 Bluebird Way
San Jose, CA 95113
This statement is chock full of valuable details. The facts are also given in a neutral tone. The witness is not offering opinions or judgments.
The statement clearly includes:
- Details on how the fall happened
- Information about possible injuries
- Employees’ reactions to the fall
- Facts on property damage involved.
The witness also provided her full name, address, phone number, and email.
How to Find Slip and Fall Witnesses
You can locate witnesses at the scene, or by looking in police reports and incident reports. Witnesses can also give a sworn, out-of-court statement in a proceeding known as a deposition.
What is a Deposition?
Attorneys use depositions to gather sworn testimony out of court. Depositions usually take place after a lawsuit is filed, and before a trial.
Both sides can schedule depositions to ask involved persons a series of questions about the injury-causing event. The person answering these questions is the deponent.
For example, your attorney can depose the store manager on duty when you fell, as well as any witnesses who saw what happened. Likewise, the store’s attorney can ask for your deposition, or call other witnesses or experts for deposition.
A court reporter is hired to swear in the deponent and record the deposition.
You can directly ask a witness to provide a statement. The person can either write one, or you can record the person giving their statement on an audio or video recording. In case the witness disappears, changes their story, or fails to remember facts, having documentation of their account when it was fresh is crucial.
Don’t attempt to tell an eyewitness what they saw or influence what they say. Let the witness share what they observed. Ask them to write down or talk about everything they remember. Do ask them to include their name and the date in their statement.
Witnesses shouldn’t worry about the importance of specific details in their statements. This importance is often determined later in the life of a claim by you, an adjuster, and an attorney (if you hire one).
Protect and Preserve Your Witness Evidence
Witness testimony is powerful evidence for your injury claim. Try to get the witness’s contact information at the scene. Ensure you have the person’s full name, address, phone number(s), and email address before you or the witness leaves the accident scene.
If your injuries are severe, you can ask someone to collect witness information for you. Sometimes you can also find a person’s contact information in a police report or an incident report.
Provide the witness’s contact information to your personal injury lawyer, if you have one.
Avoid the appearance of witness harassment. You don’t need to contact or bother the witness. The last thing you want is for the witness to become annoyed, confused, or unwilling to cooperate with you or the insurance adjuster.
A Personal Injury Attorney Can Help
A good witness is valuable to have on your side after a slip and fall. Some injured persons will also want an experienced personal injury attorney on their side for assistance.
A lawyer can help in slip and fall cases by:
- Collecting additional evidence, like surveillance film and store incident reports
- Negotiating with claim adjusters
- Finding witnesses to provide statements of what happened
If you hire a lawyer, and already have a witness statement, make sure the statement is in the accident file your provide to your attorney.
Your attorney can use witness statements to establish the facts of your claim, and to hold the insurance company to account for a lowball settlement offer.
Most slip and fall lawyers offer free no-obligation meetings with potential clients. If you decide to hire one, you won’t need to make any payments upfront.
Also, most personal injury lawyers work on a contingency fee basis, so they won’t receive any payment until they settle your claim or win your case in court.
Contingency fee arrangements allow injured people to focus on healing and obtaining compensation. They don’t need to worry about how they’ll pay for legal help.
You’re entitled to fair compensation for your slip and fall injuries and suffering. There’s no cost to find out what a skilled attorney can do for you. Reach out to one today.
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