Slip and Fall Settlement Example in California

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.)

The Accident

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.

Injuries and Medical Treatment

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.

Additional Damages

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.

Initial Demand Letter

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:

  • Vinny knew his guests would be walking on the gravel path, because he instructed them to do so
  • the sprinkler head was too close to the edge of the path
  • an inspection of the area before the party would have shown that the sprinkler head was covered by leaves.
  • Vinny's failure to inspect the area and correct the concealed sprinkler head created a hazardous condition, and
  • it was reasonably foreseeable that a guest like Angela would trip on the sprinkler head and be injured.

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:

  • cost of medical care (e.g., ER, surgery, rehab, medications, etc.)
  • lost wages from refunded ticket sales and cancellation of the concert tour, and
  • reduced earning capacity because of Angela’s need to restrict her dancing and jumping.

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:

  • copies of medical and rehab bills
  • x-rays and MRI images
  • medical reports from the orthopedic surgeon and rehabilitation therapist, which included the therapist’s opinion that Angela should reduce her professional dancing and jumping, and
  • an itemization of refunded ticket sales, and official cancellation of the tour.

Insurance Company Offer

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:

  • Vinny made sure the gravel path was clear and all sprinkler heads were visible just two hours before the party.
  • Santa Ana winds that afternoon must have blown leaves over the sprinkler head between the time he inspected the area and the time Angela arrived.
  • Under the legal theory of comparative negligence in California, which would partially offset any liability on Vinny’s part, Angela shared more than half of the fault for her own injuries and “assumed the risk” of injury by not wearing the sandals she brought when the gravel bothered her feet, and then choosing to walk barefoot in the area outside the path where the sprinkler was located. (Learn more: What if I am partly at fault for my California slip and fall?)
  • Rehabilitation appeared to be successful, and Angela was an aspiring (not established) singer, not a professional dancer.
  • Nothing suggested any reduction to the dancing portion of her performance would impact her nascent singing career.

Settlement

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.

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