What is My Massachusetts Slip and Fall Case Worth?

It is very hard to answer this question when the client first walks in the door.  When things become clearer, i.e. nature of injuries, extent of injuries, permanency of injuries and amount of lost wages are determined, then the lawyer can give the client an idea of what the slip and fall case may be worth.  Keep in mind that oftentimes with these cases, the client is usually partly at fault for the accident, which obviously affects a settlement or judgment amount.

Most attorneys assign different values to the same case.  I found the following, courtesy of Massachusetts Lawyers Weekly, which demonstrates this point.  The article describes a "discussion" between six Massachusetts personal injury lawyers.  It is interesting because all six lawyers, for the most part, have widely different interpretations of the monetary value of the same case.  Here is the "discussion":

The hypothetical:

A 35-year-old, single stay-at-home mother is injured while attending her child’s soccer game at his private school.

She explains that, as she was cheering for her son on the wooden bleachers, she stepped in a 5-inch crack between the wooden boards and fell.

The mother says that in the fall she broke a bone in her foot and sprained her wrist. She is expected to fully recover.

In the meanwhile, she has had to hire a home-care assistant to help her with child care duties and to drive her to doctors’ appointments.

GARRITY: He first assumes that the medical expenses are $5,000 and not covered by her insurance company, that the woman was 25-percent comparatively negligent (and that there is no liability cap). Garrity values the case between $30,000 and $35,000 for settlement.

"I think she’d get less if it was tried because juries come down harder on open and obvious situations," he says, noting that she might get between $20,000 and $30,000.

: She says that this doesn’t seem like "much of a case," as most people expect bleachers to contain open spaces between the boards. Further, she notes, the private school is very likely to have charitable immunity.

BUELL

"I might pay the out-of-pocket expenses in settlement, but I can’t imagine that this plaintiff would go to trial because the $20,000 cap is such a small sum," she says.

MILNE: "I assume that this is the first or second time the woman had been on the bleachers, that it was crowded, she couldn’t see where she was stepping and she thought this would be a safe place to walk," he says.

In addition to that, Milne notes that a single mom would probably be a sympathetic plaintiff and there are building code provisions applicable to bleachers that might have been violated.

"I would think without an applicable liability cap it would settle for $65,000 to $100,000, but if it is presuit without time delay and high costs it would probably be closer to $65,000 and I might even advise taking a little less," he says.

If the case went to trial, Milne says that he would expect a $75,000 verdict. "Slip and fall cases are very difficult with juries because of all the stereotypes and baggage that personal injury lawyers carry with them," he says.

O’DONNELL: "Given the size of the crack, … jurors are going to ask why this woman didn’t see the crack," she says.

Nonetheless, O’Donnell says that if liability were 100 percent, she would value the case at $25,000 and would likely advise the client to accept an offer in the $18,000 range.

She notes that she assumes the school was not subject to the liability cap, encouraged parents to attend games and sit in the bleachers, which were old and contained other previously repaired cracked areas, and that the crack was filled with dirt.

Other assumptions included that the mom who knew the game would be well-attended could begin walking again after a three-week period, needed physical therapy two times a week for four weeks and could not return to her usual jogging schedule for six months. O’Donnell adds that she assumed medical bills totalled $3,500 and home care assistance cost $1,500.

TODD: He says that he also assumed that the liability cap would be a significant factor.

"If it is a not-for-profit corporation, the value of the case would be $20,000, so it ought to settle for something less than that," he says.

BOYLE: "The bleachers are owned by a private school, which is probably a charitable corporation so there would be a $20,000 liability cap and the person fully recovered," he explains.

There would be a "significant chance" of a defense verdict if it went to trial, says Boyle, as there is no "obvious" negligence in the facts. "

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