What do I need to know about damages in a slip and fall lawsuit?
The value of a case is as much determined by the area in which the case is filed as it is by the injuries involved. Urban settlements are typically greater than those in rural areas, where the cost of living is lower. The same kind of case that lands a $20,000 settlement in a Knoxville, Tennessee court may turn up an $80,000 award in Los Angeles, California.
The Value of a Slip and Fall Case
The value of a slip and fall depends on the facts, the location, the total amount of insurance coverage, the wealth of the defendant, the severity of the injury, the strength of the case, and the assets and insurance of anyone else in any way at least partially responsible – plus the skill of the lawyer involved. There is also the subjective element involved: the sympathy of the jury, the appearance of the injured, juror perceptions, makeup of the jury, and so forth. Putting a dollars and cents amount on an injury can be extremely difficult because of the subjective factors.
Damages After a Slip and Fall
Damages are intended to compensate for the injury a person has suffered. Consequently, there is no set formula. In slip and fall cases, damages may include:
General damages: This includes payments for such things as (a) future wages if an injured party can’t work for a period of time or at all, (b) loss of promotion to a higher job that may have been offered if not for the injury, (c) inability to do housework or drive a car to go to the store, (d) loss of ability to enjoy hobbies, and, the most common, (e) pain and suffering. General damages are more difficult to prove and more subjective than other types.
Special damages: These are payments for all the costs incurred for such things as medical and hospital bills, heating pads, ace bandages, child care, transportation to doctor appointments, medicines, prescription drugs, physical therapy, and ambulance costs. They also include actual wage loss. Special damages are fairly easy to calculate as they can be proven by receipts, statements, pay stubs, and so forth.
Calculating Slip and Fall Damages
Courts often find it difficult to put a specific dollar amount on these damages. There is no standard amount. Certainly, a person who incurs $3,000 in medical bills and suffered a broken arm from the slip and fall has a better and more valuable case than another person who suffers $3,000 in medical bills that consists of therapy for soft tissue injuries (i.e., no broken bones, dislocations, etc.). In some states, there is no award for general damages at all. In others, there is a limit of a certain dollar amount, such as $100,000 or $250,000. A personal injury lawyer will know the law in the state in which the injury occurred and will be able to help determine the value of a case and whether there are caps on damages.
An attorney will include actual losses (special damages), plus projected amount of future losses, and subjective amounts for such losses as inability to enjoy a previous lifestyle or activities, including the impact on marriage (also called loss of consortium) and for pain and suffering, including the emotional suffering caused by the consequences of injuries. These latter items could substantially increase the value of a case. For instance, if a person broke his or her leg in two places, with $15,000 in medical costs to date, extensive surgery and treatment in the amount of $70,000 projected with a guarded prognosis, a wage loss of $5,000 and projected 4-month wage loss, plus challenges to everyday life such as making a home wheelchair accessible, they may be looking at a settlement demand of $400,000 or greater. If the outcome of treatment and prognosis is good, fewer lifestyle changes are necessary, and there is less potential for wage loss, a $15,000 medical bill and $5,000 wage loss plus pain and suffering may result in around $50,000 in damages.
If there was an egregious problem that should have been corrected, there could also be punitive damages. This may only be relevant if the matter goes to trial, but the potential for an argument of this nature can provide significant leverage, especially if an attorney is known to have a track record for big settlements. An example might be an absentee landlord with numerous code violations who has endangered his tenants.
Caps on Damages
Laws vary from state to state concerning caps on damages and new legislation can change things at any time. For instance, there are proposed limits to medical malpractice lawsuits, and this type of suit could result if there are medical complications that are related to an underlying slip and fall case.
Dealing with the Insurance Company
Ultimately, the reality is that those injured in a slip and fall are dealing with insurance companies, and may be limited by the policy limits. An attorney will have greater access to information about policy limits through previous contacts with an adjustor, and will know which types of damages are available in a specific case.