Understanding Liability in Personal Injury Cases

If you are hurt in a slip and fall in a bank or from spilled hot coffee from a restaurant, that doesn’t necessarily mean you have a viable lawsuit, says Toronto personal injury lawyer Darryl Singer.

“Just because you’re hurt doesn’t mean you can sue the place where it happened,” says Singer, principal of Singer Barristers Professional Corporation. “Somebody other than you has to be at fault for the accident. There has to be an element of liability.”

It may seem like a simple concept, but Singer regularly receives inquiries from people who are eager to sue — even if they were injured as a result of their own clumsiness.

For example, Singer recently tried to help a man who slipped at a bank, resulting in very serious injuries. The man told Singer he fell because he thought there was spilled liquid on the floor.
Singer issued a notice of lawsuit to the bank, and an insurance adjuster contacted him a short time later, saying they had security camera footage showing the man’s fall.

After viewing the footage, Singer could see there was no spill or other reason for the fall. The man simply tripped over himself when he turned around.

“I explained to him that the bank was not at fault, notwithstanding the fact you had an unfortunate accident that caused you to have an injury,” Singer tells AdvocateDaily.com. “But there’s no possible way it’s the bank’s fault. You can’t sue the bank.”

It was difficult for the man to accept, he says. He believed the bank should pay for his medical rehabilitation, since that’s where the injury occurred.

“This is constant,” Singer says of the misconception around liability and slip and falls.

In another example, a woman tried to get his help after falling outside of a private building. But when his associate viewed the area, she couldn’t find any physical issues with the site. There was no construction at the time of the fall, the weather was fine and the sidewalk in good repair.

Singer believes the confusion around liability is exacerbated by stories coming from the U.S., such as the woman who sued McDonald’s and won a $2.86 million jury award (later reduced to $500,000) after suffering from third-degree burns in her pelvic area from a coffee spill.

In fact, Singer also has a client who was also burned by McDonald’s coffee. He says while she has a good case, she could never dream of winning millions in damages.

“Since the scale of damage awards in Canada is not the same as in the U.S., the case is not worth $2.86 million or even $500,000. It is worth significantly less.”

Singer says people need to realize there is a big difference between hurting yourself because of an accident and as a result of someone’s negligence.

“If you come to my house and fall down my stairs because you’re clumsy, you can’t sue me,” Singer says. “If you’re leaving, it’s winter and you slip because I didn’t salt the stairs, yes, you have a case.

“It’s all about liability.”

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