A most unusual case.
Roughly ten years ago a most unusual slip-and-fall case resulted in a jury verdict of $12.2 million. A 47-year-old woman stopped at a convenience store to buy a newspaper. While she was walking toward her car she slipped on a wet spot on the sidewalk that surrounded the store. The sidewalk was approximately 8 inches higher than the pavement. When she fell, she landed on her chest and chin. An eyewitness to the fall said that her head snapped backwards almost as if she had been hit by a boxer.
Plaintiff did not recall losing consciousness. Therefore, when she visited the emergency room, her chin was stitched, and she was released. The hospital’s medical record, therefore, included nothing about either the intensity of her head “snapping” backward or that she had lost consciousness.
During the next few months, plaintiff began to demonstrate symptoms of a mild traumatic brain injury. Her symptoms included short-term memory loss, stress, fatigue, dizziness, balance challenges, and depression. Due to the symptoms, she was not able to continue to manage her business and her 20 – 25 employees. In addition to these symptoms, was the most important result of the fall: she withdrew emotionally from her 15-year-old daughter.
When the case came to trial, plaintiff’s attorneys elicited testimony about her personality changes and decreased mental capacity from her friends, family members and co-workers. In addition, her attorneys offered into evidence neuroimaging showing a number of lesions or spots in areas of her brain that control the functions that were diminished as a result of the fall. Plaintiff’s attorney also presented testimony from a neuropsychiatrist and a life care planner to support her case.
The defense responded that plaintiff’s attorney and the specialists had created a brain injury where none actually existed. Plaintiff’s attorneys pointed out, in response, that plaintiff had seen more than 30 medical professionals before she spoke with an attorney. Defense attorneys also argued that the wet spot that caused plaintiff’s fall was an open and obvious hazard. Plaintiff’s attorneys conceded that the spot was discolored, but pointed out that there was no indication that it was slippery.
It was reported that the cause of the water spot was a leak in the canopy that extended over the gas pumps and to the store building. Store employees admitted that they had been aware of the spot for a long time, but that they had done nothing to warn customers about the risk.
While the jury was deliberating, the two parties reached an agreement that plaintiff would receive no less than $1.5 million and no more than $6 million (the limit of defendant’s insurance coverage). The jury returned with a verdict of $12.2 million for the plaintiff.
The jury award is the primary factor making this a most unusual case. A slip-and-fall verdict of $12.2 million is almost unheard of. Personal injury attorneys handle slip-and-fall cases daily. The verdicts, however, are typically for much lower amounts. The types of injuries typically suffered in a slip-and-fall event are seldom catastrophic. It is rare to see a slip-and-fall settlement that is more than $1 million.
Slip-and-fall lawsuits are complex cases. Contrary to popular belief, a fall on someone else’s property does not necessarily mean that the property owner is liable for your medical costs. In fact, these cases require a good amount of research and many conversations with employees, bystanders, and others. Slip-and-fall cases are determined by factors including: where the fall occurred, how and why this place became dangerous, whether you and the owner knew the place was dangerous, and many others.
If you or a loved one has been injured as a result of a slip-and-fall incident on someone else’s property, call the experienced attorneys of Altizer Law, P.C. Bettina and Terri will listen to your account of the incident and tell you if the matter warrants further investigation. If there is a case, they will represent you (if you wish) and either mediate or litigate on your behalf to win for you the largest possible financial settlement under Virginia law.