Most slip and fall cases end up reaching a settlement at some point, with very few claims ever going to trial. But what is the typical process for reaching a settlement? The following example illustrates the typical lifecycle of a slip and fall settlement in Washington.
Friends and band mates, Jimmy and Curt, drove to interesting locations scouting for the video to accompany their upcoming album, “Wash ‘N Weird.” After leaving Prosser's Gravity Hill just outside Prosser, where they laughed in amazement as their car rolled “uphill,” they headed to the mysterious Mima Mounds near the coast. On the way, they stopped at the Shop of Oddities, an emporium of rare and exotic items.
Curt wandered wide-eyed through the store, but he didn't notice the pieces of “UFO metal” on the floor under a shelf. The metal pieces, resembling lava rock, allegedly dropped from an alien ship hovering near Maury Island in 1947. When Curt stepped on one of the metal pieces with his right foot, he lost his balance.
To prevent himself from falling, Curt instinctively reached for a display shelf, where several teeth in a large shark jawbone impaled his right hand. Curt and the attached jawbone, as well as the GoPro camera Curt was wearing on his head, tumbled to the floor as he screamed in pain.
At the local ER, the physician carefully removed the jawbone from Curt's hand. The doctor could not determine whether any pieces of tooth from the old jawbone had dislodged into the hand, and he sent Curt to surgery for debridement and irrigation of the three puncture wounds -- what Curt called his “land shark bites.” Curt was referred to a specialist for follow-up, and to make sure he had no tendon or nerve damage. He was then discharged with painkillers and antibiotics.
The surgery and recovery time from Curt's injury required the music video taping to be pushed back six weeks, which meant that some scheduled production costs were lost. Also, Curt's crash to the floor destroyed his head-mounted GoPro camera.
The Washington statute of limitations provided Curt three 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 Washington?)
Once a settlement offer was accepted, there would be no going back later for more compensation if Curt needed additional care or treatment. So his attorney wanted to make sure Curt's condition had stabilized before submitting a demand letter to the insurance company.
Four months after Curt's accident, his attorney sent a demand letter claiming that the Shop of Oddities was legally responsible for Curt's injury, and describing specifically how the accident occurred.
The letter asserted that the Oddities knew or should have known that the metal pieces on the floor below a display shelf constituted a hazard to patrons, who were unlikely to notice them because of the distracting, eye-catching display of strange and exotic items on the shelves above.
The demand letter included an itemized list of Curt's losses stemming from the accident, including the cost of medical care (i.e., ER, surgery, medications, etc.), the loss of video production costs, and the loss of his camera.
Curt's total out-of-pocket compensatory damages amounted to $4,500 for his medical expenses, $3,500 for the production costs and $500 for the camera. His attorney decided that another $11,500 was appropriate to compensate Curt for his pain, discomfort, and anxiety. The total demand was $20,000.
In support of the claim, the letter included:
The insurance company responded with a letter rejecting the demand and offering $16,000 to settle the matter. The insurance company asserted that, under "comparative negligence" rules in Washington, Curt contributed to his own injuries by neglecting to pay sufficient attention to where he was walking and standing. Learn more: What if I am partly at fault for my slip and fall in Washington?
Curt's attorney responded by sending the insurance company a copy of the video captured by Curt's camera, showing all of the interesting items he was looking at on the shelf just before he slipped on the metal piece on the floor, as well as the location of the metal pieces on the floor directly in front of the shelf and partially sticking out into the aisle where Curt and other patrons were browsing.
After several phone conversations between the insurance company and Curt's attorney, the insurance company made a final offer of $19,000. Curt briefly 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.
From this example, you can see that not only do most slip and fall cases settle before trial, many get resolved without a lawsuit ever being filed. Get more tips on In-Store Slip and Fall Injury Claims.