Question: What are my options if I fell and was injured at work but outside of the building? I was at work when I slipped, fell and was injured. It just snowed an inch and the parking lot at work was covered. I went to my car for the lunch break and slipped in the parking lot on work property. I broke my leg. Can I get workman's compensation? If not, can I sue whoever owned the building? I don't normally think of suing, but now I need to pay the rent and buy groceries. I don't have any choice.
Answer: These next few months Katrina and I will get many questions about slipping and falling on the ice. We do every year. This question is different than a normal tort case because it involves a work injury. In Iowa a fall at work may be covered by workers’ compensation, but then again it may not be. Or it may be covered by the building owner's casualty insurance policy. It will depend on the reason for your trip to the parking lot as well as the conditions and preparation of the walks and lot for employees to safely get in or out of the building. It may also be impacted by the continuing storm doctrine, a legal rule recently discussed by the Iowa Appeals Court.
In workers’ compensation law the first step is always to report the injury to your supervisor. You will need to report the injury right away, assuming your supervisor doesn't already have actual notice of the injury. After you report it to the supervisor he or she will report it to the insurance company by filing a claim. After the claim is opened an adjuster will be assigned to your case and shortly thereafter you will be asked to give a recorded statement. We have several blogs about recorded statements and I’d suggest you read those to prepare yourself. If you’re not going to read them then hire me to help prepare you.
After the claim file is opened the adjuster will make a decision about whether this one claim will be covered by workers' compensation insurance and the adjuster may actually put the building owner on notice of your injury. If the adjuster doesn't put the owner on notice, then you need to put the building owner on notice. This is what lawyers do after you hire one. But let us get back to the work comp insurance. They will either accept or deny the claim. If they deny the claim you will receive a letter stating your claim has been denied. At that point either you accept the denial or you start looking for a lawyer, such as Katrina and I, who practice Iowa workers’ compensation law. I hope by this explanation you understand the importance of the recorded statement. Screw that up and you may have a difficult time finding a lawyer who will accept your case or if you do find one their opinion may be that you have no case because of what you said on the recorded statement.
Make no mistake about the insurance industry, they are good at what they do and making you look and sound like a crook is at the top of their list of reasons to speak with you. Never confuse friendliness with who really are your friends.
Never forget just because someone is friendly doesn’t mean they are your friend.
Whenever you get ready to agree to give a recorded statement ask yourself if you understand the issues to be discussed and if you don’t, then hire a lawyer who can explain the issues in a workers’ compensation case. If you've uncomfortable with the process then hire a lawyer. We would be happy to assist. Call if you need help. This initial consultation is free, we assume most people don't understand whether or not they have a case, so us giving you the thumbs up or down helps everyone in this system to avoid wasted time.
Then of course you may also have a second claim with the owner of the property. Building leases, insurance policies, subcontractors who might be responsible for keeping the lot cleared, spreading salt and general maintenance could all be things the lawyer needs to consider. This is complicated and there is no way in this blog for me to cover all that I have learned over the past thirty plus years. What the lawyer will do is contact the property casualty insurance company to discuss the claim. The lawyer will, if hired early enough, take photographs of the location to show the conditions, of where you fell. This is as important as anything that is done in your case. Taking good photographs is essential to supporting your claim. Without it you have a much different case. I believe these photographs are critical, which is why I always want to be hired the day the accident happens. The insurance industry wants you to believe hiring a lawyer so quickly shows you are "sue happy", but that isn't true, quite the opposite. They like it when you delay because then you don't have the photographs to demonstrate the condition and then they will deny, deny and deny some more.
So do not delay. Either take good photographs of the conditions or hire a lawyer that will.
Note from Attorney Lombardi: I have queued up 7 videos that are relevant to this subject. They might be too long for your attention span. If so watch them a little at a time over several days. But watch and listen to what I have to say because they contain important information.