Walked into an glass door, thinking of filing a lawsuit.
December 18, 2014 10:45 AM   Subscribe

I walked into a unmarked glass door outside a popular chain restaurant, and ended up with some injuries. I'm contemplating a lawsuit, but am not sure how to approach this and would appreciate advice on how to proceed.

I went to the restaurant with my friend, and was looking straight ahead - no smartphones or other distractions. I had my glasses on so I could see just fine. The door was practically invisible (I've never seen a glass door like it) and was unmarked, and I have two people who witnessed the incident. Another customer even told me that he would sue if this had happened to him; I've never even thought of filing a lawsuit before, but I am seriously considering doing so in this case.

There was a lot of blood, plus my glasses broke and I have a cut/bruise next to my eye. Afterwards, I filed an incidence report and got the name and phone number of a witness. I put a bandage over the cut, but it's not healed yet (this happened about a week ago).

An employee said he's seen people walk into the door before, but this was the worst he's seen. I was flabbergasted that there was no sign or anything to warn customers of this potential safety hazard (the manager told me that a sign is usually up, she had forgotten to that day.)

I don't know the first thing about lawsuits, and am unsure as to how to get started with this. I know that YANML for the law people out there: Where would I begin? Do I have a case? Thank you.

PS: I'd prefer legal advice as opposed to "yes, you should sue" or "no, I wouldn't sue if that was me" comments. Also, I live in Ohio.
posted by BuddyBoo to Law & Government (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
How much money are you out here? The cost of a pair of glasses? I would politely go and talk to the restaurant folks and see if they are willing to reimburse you as a first step. This doesn't sound like the type of situation where you would (or should) get some sort of "pain and suffering" damages, and it does not sound as though you incurred any medical expenses or suffered any permanent damage. I don't think a lawyer would be willing to take your case over the cost of a pair of glasses.
posted by rainbowbrite at 10:51 AM on December 18, 2014 [19 favorites]

You need to contact personal injury lawyers in your area. As you probably know, lawyers are not allowed to give you legal advice in a forum like this, so the only opinions you get here are going to be useless opinions for you.
posted by brainmouse at 10:51 AM on December 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

Am a lawyer, not your lawyer, not licensed in Ohio, not legal advice. I recently fell down some stairs that were a similar safety hazard. Instead of going right to court, I contacted the owner of the business and asked for their insurance information. I filed a claim with their insurance and they are paying all my medical bills. Cost to me: $0, about 5 hours of my time. Savings to me: $1100 in medical bills.

I'd suggest calling the restaurant, asking who their insurance agent is, and contacting that person to file a claim.
posted by notjustthefish at 10:52 AM on December 18, 2014 [60 favorites]

I recently fell down some stairs that were a similar safety hazard. Instead of going right to court, I contacted the owner of the business and asked for their insurance information. I filed a claim with their insurance and they are paying all my medical bills. Cost to me: $0, about 5 hours of my time. Savings to me: $1100 in medical bills.

If the OP sought medical treatment for her injuries and has health insurance, it's quite possible that her health insurance carrier will get involved here as well as they seek to subrogate to the business's insurance.
posted by Jahaza at 10:57 AM on December 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Jahaza, you are probably correct. My insurance paid nothing out of pocket (yay, high deductible plan!) so they didn't care at all.
posted by notjustthefish at 11:07 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'd personally start by calling the manager or owner of the restaurant and asking them to compensate you for your glasses being broken.

Unless the cut required a hospital visit, or this incident led you to miss work and you don't have paid leave, or maybe if you have some kind of phobia of being cut and this caused grave psychological distress, I don't really see any reason to sue beyond being reimbursed for damage to your glasses.

Typically to sue, you need damages. Your damages are very paltry and a reasonable person would just pay now rather than dealing with a lawsuit.
posted by Sara C. at 11:29 AM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not a lawyer. Did survive being the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit though.

The idea of contacting the restaurant directly to ask for your costs to be covered is an excellent one particularly if your losses were all tangible (ie: medical bills, broken glasses, etc.) -- although it doesn't sound like you actually saw a doctor or had EMS called, which may limit what is perceived as your "injury".

If you want compensation for something that is less tangible in terms of money (ie: you will have a permanent scar or loss of use of an eyelid, for instance, or you were so horribly embarrassed that you want compensation) then you'll need an attorney.

In my case, I had tens of thousands of dollars of medical bills, time lost from work, permanent scars, etc. and I was fighting against an opposing insurance company determined not to pay a dime, so I had no choice but to get an attorney. The process was awful, emotionally taxing (the deposition alone was an entire day of my life with lots of stress and tears) and took - quite literally - years to resolve. Years. And I had basically an airtight case and an excellent attorney. You can hire a personal injury attorney and that attorney will get paid by taking a portion (typically a third) of the final settlement.

Think hard about what you want the outcome to be. That will determine the course
posted by anastasiav at 11:39 AM on December 18, 2014 [11 favorites]

Since your only monetary expense seems to be the glasses, I don't see what you'd expect to sue them for --- "pain and suffering", lost wages, what exactly? I mean, you didn't consider it worth the time and expense of going to a doctor, so why should a court consider it worth awarding you damages?

I'd just go to the manager (or district manager, if the restaurant manager is unsatisfactory), and tell them you want 1) new glasses, both lenses & frames, plus possibly even an eye exam if you're nearly due for one anyway; 2) a written apology; and 3) written assurances that by x date (30 days sounds reasonable) they will put some kind of decals on that glass and/or install a horizontal waist-high railing across it, so this doesn't happen to anyone else.
posted by easily confused at 11:43 AM on December 18, 2014 [9 favorites]

Where would I begin?

I would begin by asking any friend you have locally with a connection to the law: who is a good personal injury lawyer? Then, call that lawyer (maybe you will speak to the paralegal, that's fine), tell them who recommended them to you, and tell them what you said here, and ask, what can be done?

Do I have a case?

Sometimes that depends on what your goal is. If your goal is to get as big of a payout as you can, that's one type of case. If your goal is to make sure this never happens again, that's another type of case. It may also depend on how much time and/or money you are willing to put into it, in hopes of either a payout or reassuring yourself that no one else will have to experience what you did. Have you thought about how much you're willing to put into it? Because if your answer is "tell me what my options are, and then I'll tell you if it's worth it to me to pursue," you are asking the wrong people.

Just calling a lawyer doesn't mean you're suing. It means you're exploring your options with someone who actually knows what those options might be (unlike strangers on the internet). Ask the lawyer if they have had experience with unsafe situations at places of business in Ohio. They may know of specific laws in your state that would light a fire under the restaurant's management to make sure this doesn't happen to anyone else in the future. Or sometimes just the fact of having a lawyer contact them will cause a business to make changes they know they ought to make but haven't made a priority.

Also, don't wait. If you want to have a successful case, it helps to get advice from the get-go. For example, hopefully you took a photo of your injuries right away? I'm not saying a photo will make or break your case, just giving you an idea of why you call a lawyer first, and decide whether or not to sue later. The sooner you get legal advice from a legal professional in your state, the more likely it is that you preserve the possibility of a successful suit, whether or not you ultimately choose to go that route.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 12:10 PM on December 18, 2014 [3 favorites]

You personally may not be out anything but a pair of glasses and no suffering except for the cut, but you were lucky. The reason to push this, via suing or insurance or both, is to make it clear to the restaurant and its workers that this situation is dangerous and they need to take it much more seriously. The fact that someone needs to remember something in order to prevent an injury is a bad situation - this wasn't even the first time! People are forgetful, so safety equipment needs to be installed permanently, not when someone remembers. To me, that would be the most important result after my glasses being replaced.
posted by soelo at 12:10 PM on December 18, 2014 [4 favorites]

You probably have enough of a case. You'd be looking at a settlement, not a full-blown lawsuit. Your next step is to talk to a personal injury attorney. Usually they call themselves "The Bulldog" and take out big ads in phone books. They'll happily hear your story and go from there. You can probably look up reviews online if you're not sure who's good in your town.
posted by michaelh at 12:24 PM on December 18, 2014

I am not a lawyer; this is not legal advice. Do not take this to a court of law, a court of basketball, a court of tennis, a paved roadway whose name begins or ends with the word "Court,"or to any other kind of court you can think of.

I'm probably not giving any new information than what's been said above, however --

Many lawyers offer free consultations. It might be worth speaking to one or more personal injury lawyers to determine if you even have grounds for a lawsuit. The lawyer(s) may well advise you to do exactly what has been suggested above; that is, contacting the restaurant management for information on their liability/personal injury insurance carrier, then filing a claim with that carrier.

Did you go to a hospital or see a doctor as a result of this incident? If not, you're likely only out the cost of a pair of glasses and some band-aids or gauze/medical tape. The amount of that would likely be below the monetary threshold for small claims court (where you do not need to have a lawyer, though I would speak with one anyway).
posted by tckma at 12:38 PM on December 18, 2014

Here's some information on small claims court in Ohio that I found by a quick Google search. If the amount of damages you suffered is $3,000 or less (this amount is different for each state), you can go to small claims court with it.
posted by tckma at 12:42 PM on December 18, 2014

Given the low damages, it sounds like you may be considering filing a lawsuit to prove a point, and maybe to ensure this doesn't happen again. Note that the U.S. civil law system is poorly designed to accomplish either of those goals. It is generally setup to put victims of negligence in the same or a similar position they were in before the accident happened, and it's not even that great at that.
posted by craven_morhead at 12:58 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

IANAL etc, but I'd like to echo what easily confused said earlier, and see if you can convince the restaurant to put decals on that glass (or something, anything) to prevent this happening again to someone else.

I totally sympathize with your injury - people tend to see that sort of thing as slapstick comedy, no big deal - but in truth someone can sustain quite serious injuries, it's no joke.

Given what you've said - it's happened before, and manager forgot to put up a warning sign? - A lawsuit (or threat of a lawsuit) might be a good thing for everyone. Even for the restaurant, long-term.
posted by doctor tough love at 1:04 PM on December 18, 2014

I'd prefer legal advice

Then go find a lawyer. This is not a forum where you can get legal advice. Where you begin is by finding a personal injury lawyer you feel like you can trust. Ask friends, get referrals from the Bar Association, call lawyers who advertise on the side of buses -- whatever.
posted by toomuchpete at 1:24 PM on December 18, 2014 [14 favorites]

I had a slip and fall on a puddle inside a large chain supermarket in California. I broke a bone. Here's what happened next:
-- I got a lawyer by asking friends. Many lawyers weren't interested -- the case was too small. Found a guy with a solo practice who took small cases like this. Had a consultation with him, laid out my story. He estimated I might get $10,000. Or I might get nothing. He told me about a case he'd recently taken to trial in which a person was seriously, seriously injured via a puddle in a retail store and yet the jury awarded nothing. I forget what percentage the lawyer said he would take, but he assured me that he would automatically reduce his percentage if necessary so he wouldn't get more than me.
-- Over the next 2 years the process unfolded, mostly without me doing much of anything except receiving updates from the lawyer about the various steps. About 1.5 years in, it was time for me to do a deposition with my lawyer and the opposing lawyer and a court reporter.
-- Right around the 2-year mark we were diverted into mediation, which is what the courts automatically do in my jurisdiction.
-- The mediation took an entire day, and literally consisted of me sitting in one room with my lawyer, the opposing lawyer in a different room, and the mediator going back and forth. At the end, the mediator awarded me $10,000. It was my choice to take it, or choose to go to trial. I took it.
-- My insurance company took the bulk of it, alas, for Legal Reasons I can't remember. The lawyer did indeed reduce whatever his percentage was so he wouldn't earn more than me. I walked away with $2000.
So, yeah. It took 2 years and I got $2000. It frustrated the hell out of me at the time, because at every step during the process all anybody cared about was if I'd missed work, and what actual damages I could show. Because I'm a freelancer, I couldn't prove that I'd missed work -- I'd just stopped pursuing work for a few weeks when pain/mobility was an issue. My pain and suffering was basically irrelevent. The fact that it was hard for me to carry my toddler? It was hard to take the toddler to the park because walking on uneven sand was difficult? Toddler was sad and that made me suffer? Husband had to do a lot more around the house because I couldn't? None of that mattered at all. They just didn't care.

Hope this helps?
posted by BlahLaLa at 1:38 PM on December 18, 2014 [5 favorites]

Thirding asking them to put up decals. I remember at the Grand Opening of a building on the campus where I worked a couple of people walked into the shiny new door. Someone put masking tape on it immediately and within a week or two there were dots frosted into the door at eye level. This is not a difficult fix. They should have done it already if they've seen people walking into the door in the past.
posted by mskyle at 2:37 PM on December 18, 2014

My daughter was injured at a restaurant and needed stitches. We filled out an incident report with the manager and their insurance company contacted us. They paid for all medical expenses as billed before insurance. I don't recall the amounts but say that the ER visit and expenses totaled $3000 but since we were insured we only had to pay $500. The restaurant gave us $3000 - so we basically receive $2500. If it is a chain restaurant, they have insurance policies to cover this sort of thing. I would start with speaking to their insurance company.
posted by turtlefu at 4:22 PM on December 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

An employee said he's seen people walk into the door before, but this was the worst he's seen.

I'm not a lawyer but I do work in risk management, and (I do not have authority to speak for my employer) my sense is that if you filed a claim against our general liability program in a situation like this, where there have apparently been multiple similar incidents previously and they haven't done anything to mitigate it (stickers are cheap), it would be slam dunk. Our third-party administrator would be tagging this claim "SETTLE IMMEDIATELY before they lawyer up".
posted by Lexica at 8:14 PM on December 18, 2014

Send a written request for whatever you'd be suing them for (new glasses? put a decal on the door?) before spending much on a lawyer. There's a decent chance that the cost of a lawyer would be more than your claim, and if you don't at least give them a chance to make things right without involving lawyers, you probably don't have much chance of getting them to pay for your lawyer.
posted by kiwano at 9:11 AM on December 19, 2014

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