Although the South Carolina Tort Claims Act provides some financial protection against “slip and fall” or “trip and fall” liability claims, municipalities should not automatically accept or deny liability for claims. When these incidents occur, they require a thorough investigation by a claims adjuster to determine the responsible party and the claim’s validity.
A major concern for local governments with these cases is that once a liability payment is issued for a claim or lawsuit because of a slip or trip in a specific area, it could set a precedent for future claims and lawsuits.
During the investigation of a case, the adjuster will verify who owns the property where the incident occurred and who is responsible for its design, maintenance and repairs. What seems like a straightforward task may be complicated.
Over time, there may have been agreements or easements with municipal or state governmental entities that have changed ownership and maintenance responsibilities for the facility or infrastructure where the event occurred, such as a sidewalk or park. These documents are not always readily available.
When investigating the claim’s validity, the adjuster will ask:
- how the individual filed the original complaint,
- if the initial notice was made via letter through legal representation as a first notice,
- if the claimant provided initial notification,
- if the report was made directly to an employee or to the police department for record only, and
- if there were independent witnesses to the incident.
If the types of injuries being claimed or the accompanying medical bills for treatment are questionable, the adjuster will broaden the investigation.
“It is important for municipal officials to report claims immediately to their insurance provider and to understand the claims and investigative processes,” said Cindy Martellini, claims manager for the Municipal Association’s Risk Management Services. “Not providing requested information promptly will delay the investigation. This often leads to the claimant filing a lawsuit against the city which can be very costly.”
During the litigation discovery process, the defendants will require the same information the adjuster requested during the initial evaluation of the claim. The legal defense fees for completing the discovery process and taking depositions may cost more than what the case could have been settled for before litigation.