As in every state, most Maryland slip and fall cases reach a settlement, with very few claims ever going to trial. But what might a settlement look like in the real world? The following hypothetical case should give you a pretty good idea.
Rachel had just facilitated a two-and-a-half-day mediation at the Inn at Burrymond and needed some down time to unwind before heading back to Baltimore. A massage and facial treatment at the hotel spa/salon seemed perfect.
The massage released all of Rachel's body tension. As the facial treatment ended, she felt completely relaxed, rejuvenated and refreshed. She sat up on the massage table, swung her legs over the side, and put her right foot down on the floor. Her foot landed on a silver dollar-sized blob of the oily mud that the spa technician had used during her treatment.
Rachel's foot shot out from under her, seeming to pull her off the table. The back of her head struck the edge of the massage table just before she hit the floor. Rachel felt a sharp pain in the back of her neck.
“Oh, no!” screamed the technician. “Oh, I'm SO sorry! I meant to clean that up before you got up.”
At the local ER, Rachel complained of pain radiating down her arm and near her shoulder blade. X-rays showed no fractures, but MRI showed a herniated cervical disc. The doctor referred Rachel to an orthopedic surgeon for follow-up and sent her home with prescriptions for anti-inflammatories, painkillers and muscle relaxants.
The orthopedic surgeon did not believe surgery would be necessary and prescribed six weeks of physiotherapy to regain her range of motion and strengthen her neck and shoulder.
As a result of the pain, stiffness and side effects of the medications, Rachel had to cancel three mediations that were scheduled for the two weeks immediately following the accident.
Rachel had three years in which to file a lawsuit for her injury under the Maryland statute of limitations. (Learn more: How long do I have to file a slip and fall lawsuit in Maryland?)
Once a settlement offer was accepted, there would be no going back later for more compensation if Rachel needed additional care or treatment. To get a better insight into any complications from Rachel's injury that might unfold in the future, her attorney wanted to wait until Rachel's condition stabilized before submitting a demand letter to the insurance company.
Four months after Rachel's accident, her attorney sent a demand letter claiming that the Inn at Burrymond was legally responsible for Rachel's injuries, and describing specifically how the accident occurred.
The letter asserted that Burrymond's employee acted within the course and scope of her employment as a spa technician when she negligently failed to clean up the oily mud she had spilled on the floor, thereby creating a dangerous condition of the property. Under the legal theory of respondeat superior, the Burrymond was liable for the negligence of its employee. (Learn more about Employer Liability for an Employee's Bad Acts.)
The demand letter included an itemized list of Rachel's losses stemming from her slip and fall accident, including the cost of medical care (e.g., ER, x-rays, MRI, medications, physiotherapy, etc.) and Rachel's lost income.
Rachel's total out-of-pocket compensatory damages amounted to $6,000 for her medical expenses and $15,000 for the loss of her income. Her attorney decided that another $21,000 was appropriate to compensate Rachel for her pain, discomfort, anxiety, and other suffering. The total demand was $42,000.
In support of the claim, the letter included:
The insurance company responded with a letter rejecting the demand and offering $30,000 to settle the matter. The insurance company asserted that the herniated disc and related pain and suffering could not be attributed completely to her fall at the Burrymond because:
(1) Rachel was 51, and disc degeneration can occur naturally as we age; and
(2) Rachel's medical records indicated her back and neck were injured from a rear-end automobile collision just a year earlier.
(Note: Luckily in Rachel's case, the insurance company couldn't pin any of the blame for the accident on Rachel. In Maryland, injury claimants who bear some amount of blame for their accident can face a pretty tough road. Learn more: What if I am partly at fault for my Maryland slip and fall accident?)
After several phone conversations between the insurance company and Rachel's attorney, the insurance company made a final offer of $34,000. Rachel 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.
Learn more about Settling a Slip and Fall Claim.