Most slip and fall claims reach a settlement, with very few ever going to trial, and California slip and fall cases are no exception. The following example illustrates the key elements and lifecycle of a slip and fall settlement in California. (Remember that every case is different, and the outcome of your case will surely vary.)
Angela, an aspiring professional singer, arrived at the posh Palos Verdes home of a record producer, Vinny, Saturday afternoon to attend a pool party. The invitation encouraged guests to "please wear appropriate pool attire, such as bathing suits, shorts, sandals or deck shoes." It also directed guests to enter the pool area in the backyard via a gate at the right side of the house.
The gravel path leading to the gate irritated Angela's bare feet, so she walked in the leaves that lined the right edge of the path. Just as she arrived at the open gate, a lawn sprinkler head hidden by the leaves caught her right foot, causing her to lose balance. Angela felt a sharp "pop" in her left knee, followed by pain as it twisted.
Angela screamed, and Vinny came running to help. Angela's knee began to swell immediately, and she had trouble walking on it. She drove herself to the hospital.
X-rays at the ER did not show any fractures, but the doctor suspected an injury to the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and referred Angela to an orthopedist. He sent her home with an ice pack, knee brace and crutches.
The orthopedist confirmed the torn ACL with an MRI of the knee. He performed arthroscopic surgery to repair the tear, and prescribed rehabilitation therapy to further strengthen and stabilize the knee.
At the time of the accident, Angela had just completed a public television taping of her first professional concert, which was to mark the beginning of a national eight-week tour. Her performance involved dancing and jumping. Given the rehabilitation therapist's estimate that she would not be able to return to her planned professional performance routine for at least six months, Angela had to postpone her concert tour indefinitely and refund all ticket sales.
Angela had two years in which to file a lawsuit for her injury under the California statute of limitations. (To understand the importance of the California statute of limitations in a case like Angela's, see Nolo's article, How long do I have to file a slip and fall lawsuit in California?
Once a settlement offer was accepted, there would be no going back later for more compensation if Angela needed additional care or treatment. To get a better insight into any complications from Angela's injury that might unfold in the future, her attorney decided to wait until her condition stabilized before submitting a demand letter to Vinny's homeowners' insurance company. (For more information, see Slip and Fall Claims and Homeowners' Insurance.)
After Angela completed rehabilitation, her attorney sent a demand letter claiming that Vinny was liable (legally responsible for Angela's injuries under legal principles of negligence), and describing specifically how the accident occurred.
The demand letter asserted that:
The demand letter also spelled out Angela's damages -- an itemized list of expenses and other losses stemming from her trip and fall accident, including:
Angela's total out-of-pocket compensatory damages amounted to $90,000. Her attorney decided that another $225,000 was appropriate to compensate Angela for her pain and suffering. The total demand was $315,000.
In support of the claim, the letter included:
The insurance company responded with a letter rejecting the demand and offering $85,000 to settle the matter. The justification for the counter-offer included the following:
After several phone conversations between the insurance company and Angela's attorney, plus the sending of additional documentation showing that Angela's performances won acclaim as much for her dancing skills as her singing, the homeowners' insurance company sent a "final offer" of $125,000. After discussing the offer with her attorney, and considering the costs and attorney's fees if a lawsuit were filed and the case went to trial -- not to mention the uncertainty of whether a jury would decide that Vinny did all he could reasonably do to protect his guests from injury and was not liable at all -- Angela accepted the offer.