The Importance of Incident Reports
As a society we are constantly in parking lots, stores, restaurants, and buildings of one kind or another. Unfortunately, some of these properties and establishments are not always safely maintained. Unknown dangers may lurk in the next aisle over, just around the corner, or as you walk through a parking lot. Sometimes, these dangerous conditions are caused by the negligent actions or inactions of the commercial property owners.
Whether they are big chains like Home Depot or Wal-Mart, major shopping centers or small mom and pop shops they all have a responsibility to maintain their property and ensure the safety of their customers who they want to enter and therefore invite onto their property. They can and should be held accountable for damages whether to property or injury to person caused by their negligence.
When slips or falls, falling merchandise or other incidents happen at one of these places it is imperative that you immediately report it to the store management and make sure a report is completed. Even if damage or an injury is not immediately apparent and even though you may initially be embarrassed, reporting it is very important. You never know what can happen thereafter and if you eventually need to pursue any claim or retain legal counsel it will be to your benefit that you immediately documented the occurrence.
The step of reporting and documenting the incident is of the utmost importance for several reasons. First, as an attorney, I have seen on too many occasions the responsible parties directly deny that anything ever happened. There response always is that there was no report made and no proof of the incident. This is a powerful and many times successful defense even in the most serious and valid of claims. Second, notifying them of the incident alerts them to the danger and allows them to take steps to immediately remedy the problem and prevent future harm. In addition to reporting the occurrences make sure that if you sign anything, the report is accurate and correctly documents your statement.
Finally, if there is any potential harm to you whatsoever you should immediately consult an attorney. The most important reason for this is to prevent evidence of the incident from being destroyed or misplaced whether intentionally or otherwise by the responsible party. Today many if not most major establishments are monitored by video. If an attorney is notified right away they can contact the establishment and notify them to preserve all relevant information, including but not limited to: records, videotapes, store and parking lot surveillance tapes and incident reports. In New Jersey, as well as many other states, if they disregard this request they can face legal sanctions and penalties. In New Jersey the relevant statute is N.J.S.A. 2C:28-6(1) and these requirements are also discussed in the Supreme Court case of Rosenblitt v. Zimmerman, 166 N.J. 391, 400-401 ( 2001).
Be safe, but if ever confronted with an unfortunate incident at a commercial establishment remember to report it immediately and consult an attorney so all relevant evidence is preserved.