Most slip and fall cases (and most personal injury claims in general) reach a settlement before trial, and many are settled before a lawsuit is even filed. But what might a settlement look like? Let's look at an example of a slip and settlement in Minnesota.
Kyle managed a catering business that had been hired to feed the film crew on the set of a new film entitled, “Prairie Dog Diaries.” He arrived with his team early in the morning at the old Hemingway Theatre just outside St. Paul, to oversee the set-up of long tables and chairs on the brightly-lit theatre stage, and the placement of additional food stations up in the balcony, where cameramen and sound technicians were working. Kyle grabbed some serving trays off of a long table and headed for the nearest stairway to the balcony.
With its visually stunning vintage art deco fixtures and architecture, the Hemingway needed some upgrades and repairs to its aging tile floors, low-wattage lights and candle sconce lighting in most of the halls and stairways. About halfway up the stairs, as Kyle took a step, his right foot landed on a nearly-invisible mound of melted candle wax directly beneath an unlit candle sconce on the wall.
His foot shot out from under him. The trays flew in the air. Kyle reached for where the handrail should have been but caught only air. He rolled all the way back down the stairs plowing his face into the tile floor at the bottom, breaking his nose and two upper front teeth, and sustaining a two-inch gash in his forehead.
Learn more about Stair Accidents and Injuries.
X-rays at the local ER confirmed the obvious broken nose plus a hairline crack in Kyle's forehead. After the doctor stitched the head laceration and bandaged his nose, Kyle received an emergency dental restoration of his broken teeth and was admitted to the hospital overnight for observation. He was released the following afternoon with painkillers and instructions to follow-up with his own dentist for further evaluation.
Kyle's hard landing at the bottom of the stairs smashed not only his nose but also the new Apple Watch his wife had given him for his birthday the previous month. Kyle also missed a week of work as a result of the accident.
The Minnesota statute of limitations provided Kyle two years in which to file a lawsuit for his injury. (Learn more:How long do I have to file a slip and fall lawsuit in Minnesota?)
Once a settlement offer was accepted, there would be no going back later for more compensation if Kyle needed additional medical treatment, so his attorney wanted to make sure Kyle's condition had stabilized before submitting a demand letter to the insurance company.
Two months after Kyle's accident, his attorney sent a demand letter claiming that the Hemingway Theatre was legally responsible for Kyle's injury, and describing specifically how the accident occurred.
The letter asserted that the Hemingway knew or should have known that the stairway where Kyle slipped and fell had inadequate lighting, no handrail, and dirty melted wax deposits that appeared to be years old on the tile step.
The demand letter included an itemized list of Kyle's losses stemming from his accident, including the cost of medical care (i.e., ER, x-rays, surgery, medications, dental work, etc.), his loss of earnings, and the cost of replacing his Apple Watch.
Kyle's total out-of-pocket compensatory damages amounted to $7,000 for his medical and dental expenses, $500 lost income and $1,200 for the watch. His attorney decided that another $17,500 was appropriate to compensate Kyle for his pain, discomfort, and anxiety. The total demand was $26,200.
In support of the claim, the letter included:
The insurance company responded with a letter rejecting the demand and offering $18,500 to settle the matter. The insurance company asserted that, under comparative negligence theory in Minnesota, Kyle contributed to his own injuries by carrying large bulky serving dishes up the stairs, which both impaired his vision and compromised his balance. (Learn more: What if I am partly at fault for my slip and fall in Minnesota?)
Kyle's attorney responded that the serving platters played no role in the slip and fall. He provided the insurance company with copies of recent online reviews about the theatre from patrons who complained that they had difficulty navigating the stairways -- some even reporting losing their footing -- because of the very low light and lack of handrails, especially when the theatre lights were turned high, which made it difficult for the patrons' eyes to adjust to the dim stairway lighting.
After several phone conversations between the insurance company and Kyle's attorney, the insurance company made a final offer of $23,000. Kyle discussed the offer with his 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.