They say “a picture is worth a thousand words.” As we have seen in many of our premises liability cases, pictures can be worth far more. When our clients are severely injured as a result of dangerous or defective premises, their health is understandably their primary focus. Pain and shock take over. An ambulance is often called to rush the victims away from the scene for medical evaluation. The last thing on their mind is preserving evidence by taking photographs of the dangerous condition. Who can blame them?
Our firm recently handled a case that demonstrated just how important it is to photograph the scene after an injury. Our client was leaving a fast food restaurant when she slipped while walking down an outdoor staircase. She fell down several stairs to the ground and suffered severe injuries, requiring multiple surgeries. When her husband met her in the emergency room shortly after the incident, she explained that her foot slipped off a stair that felt “slimy” and “oily.” Her husband drove to the scene of the incident shortly thereafter and noticed that the stairs were covered in thick layers of mold and mildew, which are known to be extremely slippery on walking surfaces. He also noticed the restaurant employees preparing to scrub the staircase with soap and industrial brushes in response to his wife’s fall. He immediately took out his cell phone and snapped several photographs of the filthy staircase before it was scrubbed.
Months later, the general manager of the restaurant was shown these photographs at her deposition. She had no choice but to admit that the staircase was unacceptable and unsafe for guests. This allowed our firm to secure a settlement that covered 100% of her medical expenses and lost wages, and a substantial additional sum for her pain and suffering. Had her husband not taken those photographs, it would have been far more difficult to prove the extent of this hazard, or that the hazard existed at all.
In another recent case, our client fell in a narrow staircase. Her husband returned to the scene of the incident an hour later and took several photos of the stairs. Upon looking at the photos, our firm and our premises liability expert were able to quickly determine that the stairs were in violation of several building code requirements which caused our client’s injuries. Here again, the photos taken by our client’s husband were crucial in not only helping us evaluate the case, but also crucial in preserving the condition of the stairs through photographic evidence. Without them, the defendant could have repaired or altered the stairs after the incident and the defective conditions that existed at the time would have been lost on the jury.
In today’s digital age, with quality cameras on virtually every cell phone manufactured, it is easier than ever for friends and family of injury victims to take photographs or even videos that will greatly assist their trial attorneys. Their future and financial security may depend on it.