One of the most common questions we get from people who come to us with a personal injury claim is, “How much compensation can I recover for my damages?” There is no formula that would lead us to the exact amount a settlement will be worth, but we do know from experience what factors are considered, how compensation is calculated, settlements paid for prior claims, and how to improve one’s chances of maximizing the dollar amount received.
What Is a Slip and Fall Accident?
A slip and fall accident is when someone finds themselves in a hazardous condition, slips or trips, falls, and injures themselves. An easy way to visualize this is to imagine the classic scenario of someone accidentally slipping on a banana peel and then falling. Although the words, “slip” and “trip” are often used interchangeably, they have their own distinctions.
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) outlines these distinctions as follows:
- you can slip when you lose your footing;
- you can trip when you catch your foot on or in something;
- and one or both of those can lead to a fall, which is when you come down to the floor suddenly and accidently.
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Premises Liability Law
Generally, if you or someone you love has sustained an injury from a slip and fall accident, you have the right to pursue compensation as long as the incident occurred due to the negligence of another party. In New Jersey, slip and fall injury cases fall under liability law.
Premises liability law essentially considers whether a slip and fall accident was reasonably foreseeable. An accident would be reasonably foreseeable if an average person would have anticipated that an accident could occur based on the condition of the property. This also includes whether an owner made a reasonable effort to keep the property repaired, safe, and/or provided some form of warning if a dangerous condition was present but not yet fixed.
Status of the Injured Person Matters
The first step your attorney will take is to gather all of the proof you have for your claim. He or she will then move on to analyzing whether the party you are accusing of being liable for your injury can be held liable for your damages in the eyes of New Jersey law. Once it is clear who to pursue for liability, your attorney will file a notice with the at-fault party, which could be an insurance company, property owner, or entity responsible for the property’s maintenance.
Premises liability involves the laws that govern accidents occurring on other people’s property, and when and why the property owner is liable for these accidents. The more liable the owner or management group is, the higher the settlement amount that can be recovered. We also look at the injured person’s status on the property where the accident occurred because that status would impact a potential case and settlement:
This is someone who is allowed on the property because the owner is allowing the premises to be open to the public for business, ultimately benefiting the owner. In this case, it is the property owner/manager’s duty to ensure that dangerous hazards are repaired in a timely manner and visitors are warned of any hidden defects that may cause injury. This is usually done by putting up signs, cones, and other signage or announcements to warn people of any kind of hazard.
In the case of Lippincott v. Briel, for example, an at-home health aide (Lippincott) was injured while working at someone’s home. After her shift ended early in the morning, she slipped and fell on snow and ice on the driveway of the home. At first, the trial court found that the owners (the Briels) didn’t have the duty to shovel their driveway or provide some sort of warning for something so obvious in nature, and ruled in favor of the homeowners. Upon appeal of the trial court’s decision, the Appellate Division court reversed that decision because the Briels owed the duty of keeping the property reasonably safe and giving warnings of any hazards. Lippincott was a business invitee, and was not only permitted on the property, but was invited there for a job.
This is an individual who has legal permission to be on another’s property. This even includes social guests. The owner or manager of a property does not have to inspect and perfect a property for a licensee’s visit, however they must still be warned of known dangers on the property. An example of a licensee would be construction or third-party maintenance workers who have a license to enter the property by an owner or manager while it might be closed to the public.
In Andiorio v. Andiorio, a woman was at the home of her son and daughter-in-law to pick up her grandchildren and take them out for a day of fun at the zoo. While there she attempted to give the family dog some water, slipped, tripped, and fell over a vacuum hose. The evidence found that the family didn’t know about the vacuum cleaners location, that the grandmother would be at the house at that particular time, and that she wouldn’t be paying attention to the obvious hazard because she was distracted by the water bowl. The grandmother was also a social guest, so the homeowners only had a limited duty to warn her of dangerous conditions that they had actual knowledge of. For these reasons, the courts ruled in favor of the homeowners, and dismissed the case.
A trespasser does not have the same amount of rights as the other two categories of visitors. An owner or manager of a property does not owe a trespasser much duty of care, because they are not allowed to be on the property, especially in the eyes of the law. The owner of a property usually only has the duty of care not to intentionally, maliciously, and/or recklessly cause harm to a trespasser.
Consider Lareau v. Somerset County Park Commission, where a person was crossing a footbridge on a golf course, then slipped and fell on “wet carpet”. The accused party, the county park commission, argued that since Lareau was a trespasser, and it had no notice of any hazard, the trespasser did not have the right to recover damages. This particular golf course was not in use at the time of the injury, and the maintenance crew does not patrol the grounds during off-season, owing no special duty to those who decide to wander onto their property. The court held that the property owner was not responsible for people who use the golf course in the off-season because the course is minimally maintained during that time, meaning the injured party was essentially under trespassers rights. Somerset County Park Commission did not breach their minimal duty of care to the trespasser, resulting in the court ruling for the property owner, and Lareau was not able to recover damages.
Another great example of a trespasser personal injury case is McNaboe v. Horizon Diner. Because a restaurant parking lot was full, McNaboe parked in a nearby supermarket parking lot and crossed Horizon Diner’s parking lot to get to the restaurant where he wanted to dine. He knew that the diner’s parking was for customers only, and there were also several signs in place to indicate this. While McNaboe was crossing the property of the diner, he slipped and fell. The court ruled in favor of the diner because McNaboe was a trespasser on the property so the diner did not breach it’s duty of minimal care to him.
What Expenses Might a New Jersey Slip and Fall Settlement Cover?
Once your status on the property has been determined, your attorney will look at your damages — what losses you suffered as a result of your slip and fall accident. One of the biggest difficulties with trying to figure out settlement amounts is the fact that no two slip and fall injuries occur under the exact same circumstances. Your potential settlement amount will depend on how your injuries affect you in the present and how they are likely to affect you in the future.
Here are some factors that could affect compensation amounts:
- Medical treatment costs (current and/or future)
- Lost wages (current and/or future)
- Emotional trauma
- Expenses of dependants
- Pain and suffering
Most of the time, if you are injured, you will need medical attention, and it can lead to very hefty medical bills. This is often the most common reason an injured party will pursue compensation. Another issue is that of lost wages from not being able to work for a period of time, or permanently. In this case, you may be compensated for any amount of income you may have lost due to the injury and will lose in the future. We also consider if you have dependents, and their needs will go unmet due to your injury.
Let’s look at Liliana Arrunategui v. Fairview Cemetery Co. of New Jersey as a real-life determination of a settlement amount. In this case, Liliana was a 59-year-old housekeeper walking adjacent to the Fairview Cemetery when she slipped, tripped, and fell due to a sidewalk slab that was uneven. After the incident, she was taken to the hospital by an ambulance, where a doctor discovered that she had a very serious displaced comminuted fracture of the right knee cap. During the surgery, something went wrong and Lilian was left with a permanent limp. The total awarded damages amounted to $335,000, of which Lilian received $268,000 because, under New Jersey’s comparative negligence rule, the jury found that Lilian was 20% liable and the cemetery was 80% liable for the injury.
In New Jersey, if someone slips, falls, and gets injured, and they are found to have some fault for the accident, the award is adjusted downward to reflect this. For example, if a person is texting while walking and slips and falls over a hazard in a parking lot, a court may well find that that person is partially to blame for their own accident and resulting injuries. In fact, if someone is more than 50% at fault, they cannot collect a settlement in any amount, according to New Jersey law.
What Is a Settlement and How Is it Reached?
A settlement is often the last step of a slip and fall accident case. This is when two or more parties agree to figure out a resolution privately. Generally speaking, this is when the accused party agrees to compensate the injured party for their damages, and in exchange, the claimant (you) would agree to drop the claim.
Usually, what comes before the settlement is an insurance claim and/or a lawsuit filed by the injured person’s attorney. However, a settlement can also happen completely on it’s own if the parties decide to resolve the issue directly through a settlement. Most cases we handle usually end in a settlement because it is the most efficient way to address them; it leaves both parties satisfied or at the very least, content with the resolution.
Calculating Your Potential Settlement
A settlement out of court can be difficult to calculate and negotiate with an insurance company of the entity whose negligence you claim caused your injury. Typically, insurance companies have dollar amount ranges they use to estimate the cost of your settlement amount. These calculations often depend on the severity of the injury.
The calculation usually begins with medical expenses, and then goes from there. Once your medical bills are added up, your settlement may be increased by a multiplier. This multiplication of your amount could range from 1.5 to 5. The maximum (5) is usually applied by insurance companies when an injury is life-changing and/or permanent. Most personal injury settlements are multiplied by between 1.5 and 3.
To put this into perspective, let’s suppose that you are the victim of a slip and fall accident down a steep flight of stairs at a friend’s apartment building, badly injured a leg, and can no longer stand for more than a limited amount of time as a result. Turns out, the steps you slipped on had a missing handrail, and the maintenance group had been notified many times about this hazardous situation yet did nothing about it. Your life has been permanently altered and, on top of that, your job as a construction worker is now in jeopardy. Your current medical costs total just over $200,000, and future costs for physical therapy and modifications to your home to compensate for the loss of your arm are still uncertain.
Due to your permanently altered lifestyle, your final settlement would likely be considerably more than your actual out-of-pocket medical expenses to date. An experienced personal injury attorney will work with you to make sure all possible future costs are covered in the final settlement amount, whether it’s paid by an insurance company or whoever is responsible.
Common Causes of Slip and Fall Injuries
New Jersey has unique characteristics that can make slip and falls accidents more likely. For example, the state has the second largest public transportation system in the United States, thereby increasing the likelihood of falling while getting on or off a bus or train in hazardous weather conditions. In addition, the state has many densely populated areas that experience high levels of foot traffic, which can naturally lead to increased chances of slip and fall injuries. Some common hazards that may lead to a slip and fall injury are:
- Uneven, broken, and/or abnormally high steps
- Loose floor tiles
- Unsecure cords, cables and other lines
- Unmarked curbs or steps
- Insufficient lighting
- Missing or damaged handrails
- Falling debris from unmaintained ceilings
- Icy/wet floors, sidewalks, parking lots
These are just a few of the many situations that may cause a slip and fall accident that results in injury. As long as another party, such as an owner or property manager, has some responsibility for your injury, you may be able to recover the compensation.
Average Slip and Fall Cost Statistics
The average hospital cost of a slip and fall accident in the U.S. can range from approximately $10,000 to $40,000, according to the Center of Disease Control (CDC). This cost can be devastating for most families who don’t have insurance or emergency funds to cover this unexpected expense. These kinds of accidents are more dangerous and costly on average for older adults over the age of 65, as CDC statistics from 2014 shows us that about $50 billion each year is spent on non-fatal fall injuries in the U.S., and $754 million is spent on fatal falls. Specifically in New Jersey, the average total cost of slip and fall injuries among older adults is approximately $1.349 billion annually.
Why You Should Hire a Skilled Attorney
It’s crucial to have the right legal representation if you were injured in a slip and fall accident. If filing an insurance claim, the investigator may be biased and/or seek to give you a lowball offer but an experienced personal injury attorney can negotiate on your behalf and hold them fully accountable for your injuries. Filing a lawsuit is an even more complicated process in terms of accident investigation, collecting the necessary documentation, and procedural aspects of a case. Finally, to reach a successful and just settlement, you need to have a solid claim, backed by all of the possible evidence, and supported by professional legal arguments. For these reasons, the value of hiring a highly skilled attorney should be obvious.
Frequently Asked Questions
This depends. If the owner of the property did not give you their duty of minimal care even as a trespasser, then you still may be entitled to compensation depending on the circumstances. One example of this is the “attractive nuisance doctrine” in New Jersey, which essentially states that owners have a duty to eliminate dangers or provide certain basic safety measures if there is some sort of artificial condition(s) on the property that would attract any children. Note, that in New Jersey the attractive nuisance doctrine only applies to children, in which case, the owner may be liable for a trespassing child’s injuries. Examples of this are features such as a swimming pool, playground equipment, or other unnatural attractions.
If you want to accurately calculate your potential slip and fall settlement, and then pursue that compensation, give yourself the best chance of maximizing both by contacting a highly skilled attorney. They will be able to most accurately figure out the amount you deserve, and then help you navigate the legal process to recover it.
If someone you love has lost their life due to someone else’s negligence, you may be able to recover damages to cover all expenses that stem from the incident, and to compensate those who have been affected by the death. You will have to prove that the slip and fall accident occurred because the owner was careless. Additionally, you will have to prove that the deceased person would have been able to recover damages if they had survived their injuries. You will want to contact an attorney to file a wrongful death suit to handle this while you’re in the grieving process. This lawsuit can recover costs associated with things like the funeral and burial, pain and suffering of the deceased prior to death, value of the income or services that the deceased would have provided, loss of companionship, and medical costs before death.
We expect any property we don’t own and operate ourselves to be maintained up to a safe standard. This is especially true if the property is publicly accessible for business, recreational use, or licensed for you to access. When the maintenance and repair of these properties is neglected, serious (even fatal) consequences may arise. If you are to secure the compensation you justly deserve, you will need the support of the highly competent and determined legal team here at Rosenblum Law. We offer decades of experience and unrivaled attention to our clients’ cases to ensure the best possible outcomes. If you or a loved one have been injured in a slip and fall accident and are seeking compensation, don’t hesitate to take the crucial first step on the road to recovery. E-mail or call 888-815-3649 for a free consultation.