Sometimes it seems as if everyone suffers at least one fall in a parking lot in his or her lifetime and some of those people consider filing a trip and fall lawsuit. I have successfully represented clients n many parking lot accidents, come have yielded settlements of more than $100,000 and others for a few thousand dollars.
Trip and fall cases can be difficult to prove and win so it helps to think carefully before pursuing a case. Most trip and fall cases involve some comparative liability, where a jury finds the plaintiff (the person who falls) partially responsible for the injury. A finding of comparative liability reduces the overall award in a case so it is important to evaluate the value of a trip and fall case before proceeding.
I thought it might be useful to look at cases involving a trip and fall in a parking lot to explore some of these issues.
Trip and Fall in a Parking Lot: A Sample Case
Not long ago, I represented a case where a woman stepped in a hole in a restaurant parking lot and hurt her ankle. Here are the facts of the case:
A woman drove with her family to a restaurant to attend a family celebration. She arrived in the parking lot shortly before noon and began walking towards the front entrance. While walking across the parking lot, the woman stepped in a hole and fell, hurting her ankle.
A few hours after the incident, the woman drove to the Emergency Room where doctors determined that she had not fractured or broken any bones, but did suffer a sprained ankle. The doctors wrapped her ankle and prescribed anti-inflammatory and pain killing medicine.
She sought follow up care with her orthopedist who took x-rays that revealed a distal tibial avulsion fracture as well as the sprain. The doctor immobilized the fractured bone with an air cast that the woman wore for seven weeks. The woman missed one week of work at her job because of the injury.
Proving Liability for a Trip and Fall in a Parking Lot
The owner of a parking lot has an obligation to construct and maintain the property to ensure the safety of people who use and walk across the parking lot. The parking lot should not have any steep changes in elevation and should have adequate lighting. The surface should allow for reasonable traction and the owner should patch and repair potholes and cracks. The property owner also has a duty to make reasonable efforts to clear the parking lot of ice and snow.
At the same time, those of us who park our cars in parking lots or walk across them have some obligations too. We need to wear reasonable footwear, watch where we are going and take reasonable caution to avoid problems. If I see a pothole, I should walk around it. If I opt to wear four-inch heels, I need to walk more cautiously.
In my experience, juries hold plaintiffs liable in trip and fall cases. Jurors have told me that victims could have avoided the accident if they paid more attention to where they were going and had simply avoided trouble.
In this case, the property owner bore some responsibility for allowing the pothole to exist, failing to repair it and failing to put any warning signs near the parking lot. My client also bore some responsibility for failing to see and avoid the pothole.
We settled this case before going to trial, but it is likely that a jury would have found my client at least fifty percent responsible for the accident by failing to avoid the hole.
Damages from a Trip and Fall in a Parking Lot
Damages from a trip and fall in a parking lot can range from non-existent (perhaps a small scrape and a dirty knee) to a sprained ankle to more serious injuries involving broken bones and surgical repair. The more serious the injury, treatment and impact in terms of limiting activity or lost wages, the larger the damages. I have had cases involving trimalleolar ankle fractures that have required surgery and resulted in significant six-figure awards. I have also had cases that have involved little more than a sprained ankle that have yielded settlements of a few thousand dollars.
In this case, the woman suffered a sprained ankle, a simple fracture that did not require surgery and did not cause any lasting disability. This injury had limited value for pain and suffering.
Jury Awards and Settlements for a Trip and Fall in a Parking Lot
A jury award is a result of the combination of the liability finding and damage determination. To determine the award, we multiply the liability finding by the amount of the damages. For example, a case where the defendant was found 50 percent liable and the award was $20,000, then the plaintiff would receive $10,000. If a jury found a defendant 80 percent liable and the damages were $1 million, then the award would be $800,000.
In trip and fall cases that involve minor injuries, the cost of going to trial for both the plaintiff and the defendant can cost more than the eventual award. Paying for a doctor to testify and preparing materials and exhibits can easily exceed $10,000. It often benefits both sides to settle smaller cases early as both the defense and the plaintiff can avoid trial costs.
What to Do If You Are Injured in a Trip and Fall in a Parking Lot
If you or someone you love is injured in a fall, the most important objective is to treat that person’s medical needs. See a doctor as soon as possible or go to an emergency room. It is important to follow the doctor’s orders. If the doctor recommends physical therapy, make sure you follow through with the physical therapy.
If you think you have a case, you should consult with a personal injury attorney who has handled cases involving trip and fall in a parking lot. That attorney can evaluate your case and guide you. You should not have to pay a fee for that consultation.
You can help your case by gathering as much information about the incident and accident scene as soon as possible. These steps include:
- Write down the exact address and location of the accident.
- Take pictures of the accident scene. Remember, your phone might have a camera.
- Write down the names and contact information of any witnesses.
- Take notes about the accident. What happened right before the accident, the actual event and the aftermath.
I like to visit the parking lot with my client to make sure that I understand exactly how the incident occurred and to prepare the best possible prosecution of the case.
If a representative from the property owner or the insurance company for the property owner contacts you, you should refer that person to your attorney. Making a misstatement or saying the wrong thing can undermine your case, which is why it is best to refer inquiries to your attorney.
I hope you found this information helpful. If you or a loved one have been hurt in a slip and fall in a parking lot, you may want to consult a New York personal injury attorney experienced with trip and fall cases. I would be glad to answer your questions and assist you. If you live in the New York metropolitan area, I could represent you. If you live elsewhere, I can help you find an attorney. You can call me at 1-800-660-1466 or email me. You can also visit my website or read more on my blog, New York Law Thoughts.
Carol L. Schlitt
New York Personal Injury Attorney