Preserving Evidence in Michigan Slip and Fall Cases

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Preserving Evidence in Michigan Slip and Fall Cases – What You Need to Know

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Slip and fall accidents occur every day. But if you are injured, that does not always mean you have a personal injury case. An injured person must still prove the store, restaurant, building, landlord, or property owner was negligent in some way in slip and fall cases. 

This means providing evidence that the building owner failed to take reasonable precautions to guard against unreasonably dangerous conditions. It also involves proving the unreasonable condition existed for a long enough time that the property owner knew, or should have known, the dangerous condition was there and needed to be cleaned up or repaired. Experienced lawyers for slip and fall cases are essential in preserving evidence to help win your case. 

Remember, the burden of proof is on the plaintiff to prove the owner was negligent. Without the necessary proof, a judge or jury will dismiss your case. That is why it is vital to preserve evidence following a slip and fall accident that you fell involves negligence. 

What is Evidence in a Michigan Slip and Fall Case?

Evidence is any type of fact or information indicating whether a belief or proposition is valid. It can come in many forms. Sometimes it is written documentation. Evidence can also include recordings and written statements. Other pieces of evidence include photographs and video surveillance of the accident scene. 

All of these pieces of evidence help support an argument that a building owner breached their duty to the public or was negligent in allowing a dangerous condition to exist. This evidence is used during a lawsuit by the plaintiff to prove their case. Without it, the plaintiff will not be successful in recovering money for their injuries. 

It Is Important to Move Quickly After A Slip and Fall 

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Unfortunately, important evidence can disappear quickly after a slip and fall. A bad spill will get cleaned up or a slippery floor will be wiped. The owner will move quickly to cover their tracks and erase proof of their negligence. That is why it is so important to move as quickly as possible to preserve the evidence

A good Michigan slip-and-fall lawyer will help you move quickly to ensure evidence is not destroyed. This can include going to the store and getting the video surveillance before it is erased. Or reviewing the broken staircase or porch, taking photos, and having an expert investigate it before it is fixed. 

How Should I Preserve the Evidence?

It depends on the type of evidence. But there are a lot of ways to preserve evidence. 

Take Photos 

The best thing to do is to take photographs of the hazard while still at the accident scene. Take as many photos as you can and save them to your cell phone. If you are unable to take photographs, have a friend or family member take photos. The closer in time to the incident the better. 

Take Video

Another tactic is to take video surveillance of the accident scene. Almost all cell phones now contain video cameras. Use that to your advantage. Take a video of the accident scene to later prove (1) the dangerous condition existed and was not something made up, and (2) the dangerous condition was unreasonable under the law. 

Keep A Notebook or Folder

Get a folder to keep all documents and papers together. This can include medical records, incident reports, medical bills, out-of-pocket costs, pictures, witness information, and other things. Make sure the documents are organized. When you meet with your lawyer, bring them to your meeting and make sure the lawyer makes copies of the evidence.  

Witnesses Are Very Important

Getting the information of witnesses after the slip and fall can make the difference between winning or losing your case. If possible, get their names and cell phone numbers. Find a way so a Michigan slip and fall lawyer can later call them and ask their opinion about what happened. 

An impartial witness is the best witness. They can help talk about why the condition was so dangerous or how the owner knew about the condition but did nothing to remove it or fix it. 

Send an Evidence Preservation Letter

Evidence preservation letters are very important. In a slip and fall lawsuit, a lawyer can get to the building owner quickly. The evidence preservation letter should be sent to the negligent owner as soon as possible following the accident. The best place to send them is to the location of the injury. The letter must require that relevant evidence is not destroyed. 

A lawsuit is not necessary to send an evidence preservation letter. Our law firm sends out these letters almost immediately after getting retained by the client. These letters should include:

  • Specific objects, documents, photos, or other items must be preserved by the negligent owner.
  • The facts outline why the evidence must be preserved. 
  • Notice that a slip and fall lawsuit may be filed and that such evidence will be necessary if a lawsuit is required.
  • A request for the identification of individuals who will keep the evidence. This includes the name and addresses of each person. 

What Happens if the Defendant Destroys the Evidence Anyway?

Under Michigan law, for slip and fall claims, a defendant must maintain and safeguard data and documents if it is reasonably anticipated a lawsuit may result from the incident. This also includes electronically stored files and emails. 

The Michigan Court of Appeals in State Farm Mut Auto Ins Co v Mich Mun Risk Mgt Auth, unpublished opinion per curiam of the Court of Appeals, issued August 13, 2013 (Docket No. 306844) stated that “[s]poliation [of the evidence] refers to the destruction or material alteration of evidence or to the failure to preserve property for another’s use as evidence in pending or reasonably foreseeable litigation.”

When this does not occur, the injured party can ask the judge for a “spoilation instruction.” The instruction says if the evidence in question was in the defendant’s control, and the defendant failed to keep it or destroyed it, the jury can infer whatever evidence was destroyed would have likely been harmful to the defendant. This instruction gets read to the jury at trial. 

Get the Incident Report If You Can

After many slip and fall incidents, in particular at large big-box stores, an incident report will be filled out by the manager. The incident report is supposed to give a review of what occurred, why the injury happened, and who was present. Incident reports can include the names of witnesses, their roles and responsibilities, telephone numbers, the date of the incident, and other vital information. 

Most of the time, the incident report will be made and the injured person never receives a copy. If possible, ask for a copy of the incident report before leaving the store or place where the accident happened. A Michigan slip and fall lawyer can later ask for a copy of the incident report, but many times the insurance carriers for the owner will not produce the incident report until a lawsuit is filed. This often puts the plaintiff and their legal team at a disadvantage. 

What is the Statute of Limitations for a Slip and Fall in Michigan?

In most slip and fall cases, an injured person has three (3) years from the date of the incident to file a lawsuit against the proper defendants who caused the slip and fall. If a lawsuit is not filed within 3 years, the plaintiff forever loses his or her right to obtain compensation for pain and suffering and reimbursement for lost wages and medical bills. 

There are certain exceptions. For example, in most situations, minors will have up to their 19th birthday to file a lawsuit. Individuals who are incapacitated can also get a longer period of time. In cases of wrongful death, the statute of limitations can be stopped until a personal representative for the Estate is named. 

It is important to contact the best Michigan slip and fall lawyer in your area to make sure your rights are protected.

Michigan Slip and Fall Lawyers Who Get Results

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The Michigan slip and fall attorneys at the Lee Steinberg Law Firm have specialized in slip and fall cases in Michigan for almost 50 years. During a time when many other law firms were declining these cases, our firm stepped up and represented the injured and wronged to help bring justice to their lives. 

Let our team of experienced slip and fall attorneys help you. Call us for a free consultation at 1-800-LEE-FREE (1-800-533-3733).