Simply put, falling objects injuries are injuries sustained from being hit by falling objects. These injuries can result from failure to act reasonably carefully (from acting negligently, discussed further below). The injuries could also involve some amount of recklessness, such as a person intentionally dropping or throwing objects from above.
The most common injuries associated with falling objects involve the head, neck, shoulder, and back areas. These injuries can be severe in nature, depending on the weight of the falling object and the height from which it fell. Even a small object, like a wrench, can cause severe damage if it falls from a great enough height.
Some examples of the most common falling object injuries include the following:
- Items falling from a shelf in a store;
- Items falling from trees, stairs, ledges, or other elevated places;
- Broken shelves or overhangs;
- Injuries resulting from a construction site accident, such as a falling beam;
- Injuries resulting from a structure collapsing;
- Items falling out of a moving vehicle, such as crates falling off of a truck;
- Injuries resulting from someone dropping objects, such as someone dropping something from a window onto the sidewalk below.
What Legal Theories Apply to Falling Objects Injuries?
Injuries caused by falling objects often result in a lawsuit in order to recover a damages award. There are two common legal theories used in falling objects cases: negligence and recklessness.
Negligence is the legal theory that allows injured persons to recover for the carelessness of others. A person is negligent if they were careless given the circumstances of the situation. Negligence is based on a person’s failure to take certain precautions. An example of negligence regarding falling objects would be a person failing to properly secure an object, which resulted in that object falling and injuring someone.
In order to prove negligence, there are four elements that the plaintiff must fulfill:
- Duty of Care: The plaintiff must show that the defendant had a duty of care to prevent the object from falling in the first place. In general, a duty of care is owed in any situation in which there is a possibility that other people could foreseeably be injured due to the defendant’s action or inaction. Generally, people going about their business owe all others a duty of “reasonable care.”
- “Reasonable care” is the care an ordinary and prudent person would use in the same situation. For example, if a person is driving during a rainstorm, they would be exercising reasonable care by driving slower and having their headlights on to increase visibility. A person would not be exercising reasonable care if they were driving forty miles per hour over the speed limit.
- Breach of Duty: The injured party must then prove that the defendant somehow breached their duty of care with their action or inaction. Such a breach occurs when a person does not act as reasonably as any other person would in a similar situation. The plaintiff must show that the defendant breached the duty of care by a preponderance of the evidence, meaning there is a better than 50% chance that the defendant breached their duty. (This is the lowest standard of proof.)
- Causation: Next, it must be proven that the negligent act, such as failing to secure an object, was both the actual and the proximate cause of the injuries being claimed.
- “Actual cause” means that the defendant’s behavior was, in fact, the cause of the injury. Most commonly, the court will use the “but for” test: the injury would not have occurred but for the defendant’s action or inaction. Another possible test is called “res ipsa loquitur,” meaning “the thing speaks for itself.” It means that the harm would not ordinarily occur unless someone was negligent.
- Some courts have applied this theory to cases involving falling objects, especially objects falling from a moving vehicle because they reason that these objects are unlikely to fall unless they are improperly loaded or fastened.
- “Proximate cause” means that the damage or injury was something foreseeable given the defendant’s action or inaction. What this means is that the defendant should have reasonably anticipated that their conduct could result in injuries. An example would be that someone could reasonably foresee that drunk driving could result in a serious car accident, and the loss of life.
- Damages: Once the other three elements have been met, the plaintiff will then need to prove that there was some damage resulting from the failure to exercise due care. In other words, there has to be some sort of harm that occurred.
Recklessness is a greater level of liability than negligence. In recklessness, the person knowingly risks that their actions will harm someone. The person consciously decides to disregard the risks associated with the action and proceeds with the action regardless of the risk.
To prove that the defendant is guilty of recklessness, the plaintiff will need to meet the following elements:
- The defendant intended to commit the act in question;
- The defendant knew that such actions would pose a risk of harm;
- The risk of harm is in itself unreasonable and greater than negligent action;
- The defendant knew or had reason to know that others could be present and directly in harm’s way.
Recklessness differs from intentional harm in many significant ways. The most critical difference is that in recklessness, the defendant did not intend to cause the harm that resulted from their action, although they were aware of the dangerous risks. In an intentional harm case, the defendant intended the other person to be harmed and injured by their action.
Are There Any Legal Remedies for Injuries Caused by Falling Objects?
In personal injury lawsuits such as negligence and recklessness, plaintiffs are most commonly awarded compensatory damages. The amount of compensatory damages awarded is dependent upon:
- The severity of the injuries;
- Pain and suffering;
- Future medical prognosis;
- Any pre-existing injuries.
Another type of damage is specific. Specific damages are also called special damages, which compensate for the quantifiable monetary loss resulting from the injury. These damages cover past and future lost wages, medical bills, and other costs. To determine a specific damages award, the court will consider:
- The dollar amount of medical bills;
- How the injuries affect the plaintiff’s ability to work; and
- How the injuries affect the plaintiff’s lifestyle.
In cases involving recklessness or intentional behavior, the award could also include punitive damages. A court awards punitive damages as a form of punishment to a defendant. Punitive damages often serve as a means to deter other individuals from engaging in the same or similar wrongful conduct.
Some falling objects cases result in a class action lawsuit. An example of this would be when the same type of defective product injures many people. Another example would be a single incident that led to the injury of a large group of people, such as a building collapsing during an event.
Do I Need an Attorney for a Falling Object Injury Lawsuit?
If you are involved in a case involving falling objects, you should consult with a skilled and knowledgeable personal injury attorney. If you are the defendant, an experienced attorney can determine any defenses available to your case. If you are the plaintiff, an attorney can help you gather evidence and documentation supporting your claim and file a lawsuit on your behalf.