SLIP AND FALL CASE STUDY: $265,000 SETTLEMENT FOR BROKEN ANKLE
The following is a brief case study of how I secured a substantial settlement in a slip and fall on ice accident for a client who had fractured his ankle on ice-covered steps at a private residence. While some accident cases are fairly straightforward and the attorney can easily determine liability, other cases are more complicated and require a true deep dive into the circumstances surrounding the accident and the applicable laws that govern such occurrences. This analysis is crucial in determining who, if anyone, may be held accountable for the damages sustained by the accident victim. Without further ado…
SLIP AND FALL CASE STUDY:
I was contacted by a gentleman who had slipped and fallen on icy steps at a private residence during the month of January. He had fractured his ankle and required surgery to re-set the bones and stabilize the ankle.
By the time the client called my office, in July of that year, the snow and ice was long gone from the steps and the client thought any hope of getting compensation for his injuries was gone, just like the melting ice.
If you may recall from a previous blog post (Slip and Fall Accidents: Know Your Rights If Injured On Ice) I published on slip and fall accidents, the law states that a landowner is not responsible for injuries sustained due to natural accumulations of snow and ice and in order for an injured individual to prevail, he/she must show that the accumulation was unnatural and was caused by the property owner’s negligent conduct.
My task was to determine if the client had fallen on an unnatural accumulation of ice and if so, who/what was responsible for the presence of ice that caused my client to sustain such a horrible injury.
FACTS, FACTS and More FACTS:
Every case analysis begins with the gathering of as many facts as possible surrounding the circumstances of the client’s accident. In this case, I needed to determine:
1. What was the weather like in the days prior to the accident and on the day of. Had it snowed, rained? What were the daytime and nighttime temperatures?
2. Aside from the client’s assertion that he slipped on ice, what independent information was available to corroborate the client’s assertion?
3. What, if anything, about the home’s roof, awning and gutter system contributed to the accumulation of ice on the steps on which the client fell?
1. I obtained detailed weather reports from the National Weather Service a.k.a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for the area where this accident occurred, including records of precipitation and day/nighttime temperatures in the days leading up to the time of accident. This information was crucial in establishing how the ice may have formed in this particular location.
The weather data revealed that it had snowed for several days prior to the accident and that the temperatures on the day of the occurrence had risen above freezing during the day and began to plummet below freezing at night. In light of these weather conditions, it was probable that snow had accumulated on the roof of the home where the accident occurred and that any melting of the snow during the daylight hours, followed by freezing temperatures in the evening, may account for the ice formations on the stairs. BUT, we still did not know if we had a viable case and our investigation continued.
2. When I met with the client, he told me he had fallen on ice on the steps of the residence, but aside from his word, I had no independent confirmation since he had not taken photos of the scene of the accident. Moreover, I was contacted months after the occurrence and was not on-site on the day of the accident to evaluate the scene and document the physical evidence.
The solution to this dilemma was to order the ambulance report (also called a “run report”) prepared by the paramedics who were called to the scene to transport the client to the hospital. They not only documented the condition of the client and the injuries he had sustained in the fall, but they also described the scene of the occurrence and the condition of the stairs where the client had fallen. The report confirmed that the client had slipped and fallen on ice that was present on the stairs. We had overcome our second hurdle, but our investigation continued since we needed to determine if the ice formation was a natural or unnatural accumulation.
3. The investigation began by looking up……at the home’s roof and gutter system, and the metal awning at the front entrance. We knew from the weather reports that it had snowed the days prior to the accident, so the probability that there was snow on the roof and awning was high, if not altogether certain. Theoretically, the fluctuations in temperature from freezing at night to above freezing during the day should have caused the melting snow to flow into the gutter and down the drainage spouts, instead of re-freezing on the steps. However, further investigation revealed the following problems with the home’s roof, awning and gutter system that, in fact, caused an unnatural accumulation of ice on the steps where our client had fallen:
A) The metal awning was too small. It did not cover the entire width of the landing at the entrance to the front door, so any melting precipitation splayed onto the landing and down the steps. In addition, the awning lacked a gutter system that would have channeled the water through a downspout and away from the landing and steps. This improper configuration caused the melting snow and ice to cascade onto the slopped landing and down the steps, both from the sides and front of the awning. As the temperatures dropped in the evening, this unnatural accumulation of melting ice and snow eventually froze, thereby creating a hazardous condition on the front stairway of the property.
B) The gutter system was woefully inadequate. A major portion of the roof drained into a small 14-inch gutter, which resulted in the gutter overflowing with the melting snow and ice from the home’s roof. This melting snow and ice, in turn, splayed onto the landing and steps and eventually froze with the falling temperature. Had the homeowner installed a proper gutter system, the melting ice and snow from the roof would have discharged into the downspouts instead of the landing and steps of the residence.
Conclusion: We had established liability. The careless and negligent actions of the homeowner had caused the hazardous conditions on his property which led to the terrible injuries sustained by our client. The accumulation of ice that caused the client’s fall and resulting injuries was unnatural and caused by the poor and inadequate design and installation of the metal awning and the gutter system, or lack thereof. The homeowner was liable for the injuries and damages sustained by our client.
We settled the case for $ 265, 000.00, to the great surprise, delight and relief of the client. As a result of the diligent and thorough investigation of the circumstances surrounding the client’s accident, we were able to convince the Defense attorneys and the defendant’s homeowner’s liability insurance company to resolve the case without the need for a lengthy and expensive trial. We had, indeed, proven our case and secured a substantial settlement for the client.
I hope you found this case study informative. If you would like to discuss your particular accident case, please contact us at (312) 357-0733 or fill out the Contact Us for a Free, No Obligation, Consultation.
Disclaimer: Obviously, each case is unique and presents its own set of challenges and not every case will be a “winner”. Hence, there is no guarantee that a similar slip and fall accident case will be successful or that it will settle for a certain amount of money.