When someone is injured at a business, it is not uncommon that the business will usher the injured person out as quickly as possible with promises of fair compensation, including payment for medical care.
The question that comes up is whether this promise is enforceable. Unfortunately, the question comes up for too frequently as the business had no intention of honoring the promise but rather just wanted to get rid of the nuisance of an injured customer.
It is important in these situations to seek the guidance of a personal injury attorney with experience in premises liability claims. There are complex issues involved, not the least of which is obtaining medical care for your injuries.
Premises Liability/Slip & Fall Claims Cover Broad Range of Accidents
Before beginning the discussion, it should be noted that premises liability claims encompass a broad range of accidents suffered on the property of another. The most common are slip and fall type accidents.
However, people are injured all the time at businesses, and these accidents do not always involve a slip or a fall. In fact, there are countless ways that a customer or visitor can be injured on a business premise. And the following discussion would apply to all of these situations.
At least in New Mexico, the answer to the original question will not be all that satisfying for those in immediate need of medical attention. However, there may be some recourse in the end against the business for lying about covering your medical expense.
Punitive Damages for Broken Promises
First, we will address the ultimate recourse for the misrepresentation. In New Mexico, there is case-law dealing with this specific situation. Essentially, the cases hold that such a broken promise exposes the business to punitive damages.
The longstanding New Mexico Supreme Court case of Romero v. Mervyn‘s addresses the issue. In that case, the plaintiff was awarded 10 times the compensatory damages in punitive damages. Punitive damages are intended to both punish the offender and to deter other similar behavior by others. In that case, the compensatory damages were pretty low and consequently so too were the punitive damages. However, it is not difficult to see how the punitive damages could be quite significant in a case involving serious personal injuries.
So the question remains what should you do in a case such as this? First and most importantly, document the promise. This means documenting everyone you spoke with and when you spoke to them. It also means documenting exactly what was said and by whom it was said. Naturally, there are those businesses that will deny ever having made the promise so the more detail you have the better.
Businesses Have Insurance for These Claims
You should then contact an attorney with experience in premises liability claims. The attorney will attempt to hold the business to its promise. Even this is not always immediately successful as businesses will often take a hard and unreasonable position that it was not their fault. Just as likely, they do not want to make a claim with their insurance for fear of a premium increase.
There are many problems with this. First, many businesses carry no-fault premises liability insurance which means the medical expense should be covered no matter whose fault it was. Second, the business would be well advised to report the incident or jeopardize coverage, particularly when they have notice from both the customer and then the attorney. Finally, even if they do not have no-fault coverage, the breach of the promise may very well be more costly (by a factor of 10 in Romero v. Mervyns’s) than the actual compensatory damages of which medical expense is only a part.
In short, there is no good reason for a business breaking its promise to pay. Yet, as mentioned, it happens all the time. When it does, it is exceedingly difficult and frustrating for an injured customer to deal directly with the business. Despite the customer’s good intentions to handle the case in an amicable manner, it often becomes necessary to hire an attorney.