If you're bringing a slip and fall case over injuries caused by a dangerous property condition, there's a very good chance your claim will reach some kind of settlement, maybe even before a lawsuit is filed. But what is the typical process for reaching a settlement? The following example illustrates the key elements and lifecycle of a slip and fall settlement in Arizona.
Amarisa brought her 13-year-old daughter, Selena, to the Sedona women's healing circle on the night of the total lunar eclipse, hoping that it would create a lifetime memory. Gathered around the fire, the group of almost 50 women and girls stood up facing the fire for a blessing by a Native American medicine woman, after which a small drumming group led them in a dance.
The women held hands and moved slowly around the fire, stepping alternately closer in and then further out into an increasingly widening circle, their pace gradually quickening. Selena laughed as she swung her mother's arm and then moved with everyone further away from the fire.
Taking a big step, her right foot hit what she later discovered was a railroad tie that formed a border around an area planted with cactus. She stumbled into the planter, smashing her right elbow into the tie, causing her back and shoulder to land in a cluster of barrel cactus. The cactus spines pierced her skin and she felt a sharp pain in her elbow.
(Learn more about Accidents on Dangerous or Defective Property.)
At the ER, Selena could not move her arm at the elbow. The doctor removed the cactus spines, but x-rays showed an avulsion fracture of the ulna.
Selena stayed the night in the hospital so that the orthopedic surgeon could examine her the following morning. The orthopedist determined that surgery was necessary because the bone fracture was on or near a growth plate in the bone. After surgery, Selena was prescribed painkillers and instructed to commence physical therapy once the bone healed.
Selena loved tennis and was a star player on her school's tennis team. Unfortunately, her elbow injury, surgery and related rehabilitation meant she would be out for the year.
The Arizona statute of limitations provided Selena two years in which to file a lawsuit over her injuries. (Learn more: How long do I have to file a slip and fall lawsuit in Arizona?)
Once a settlement was accepted, there would be no going back later for more compensation if Selena needed additional care or treatment. To get a better insight into any complications from Selena's injury that might unfold in the future, her attorney wanted to make sure Selena's condition had stabilized before submitting a demand letter to the insurance company for Talking Feather Retreat Center (TFRC), the owner of the property where Selena was injured.
Four months after Selena's accident, her attorney sent a demand letter claiming that TFRC was legally responsible for Selena's injury, and describing specifically how the accident occurred.
The letter asserted that TFRC knew or should have known that:
The demand letter included an itemized list of Selena's losses stemming from the accident, including the cost of medical care and her lost income.
Selena's total out-of-pocket compensatory damages amounted to $8,200 for her medical expenses. Her attorney decided that another $20,500 was appropriate to compensate Selena for her pain, discomfort, and loss of her ability to play tennis for the year. The total demand was $28,700.
In support of the claim, the letter included:
Learn more about Personal Injury Demand Letters.
The insurance company responded with a letter rejecting the demand and offering $18,000 to settle the matter. The insurance company asserted that, under comparative negligence law in Arizona, Selena contributed to her own injuries by neglecting to watch where she was dancing. Learn more: What if I am partly at fault for my slip and fall accident in Arizona?
Selena's attorney responded by providing a written statement from the organizer of the event stating that TFRC told the group that outdoor lighting would be on during the event. However, a second written statement, accompanied by photos of the property, revealed that no outside lighting existed in the area where the event occurred.
After several phone conversations between the insurance company and Selena' attorney, the insurance company made a final offer of $26,000. Selena briefly discussed the offer with her attorney, considering the costs and attorney's fees if a lawsuit were filed and the case went to trial, and decided to accept the offer. Get more Tips for Settling a Slip and Fall Claim.