What is a Slip and Fall Case Worth? Lanier decision appears to have increased the value by 25%.

   In 2006 the average jury award for a slip and fall case was $189,000, but the statistics reveal only two jury awards that make up that statistic.  It is believed that since the adoption of the precedent making  Lanier v. Wal-Mart in 2003, that more of these cases are being settled.  Settled cases do not of course wind up being presented to juries.


 The statistics do not tell us of the jury awards for the defendant in slip and fall cases, and undoubtedly there are many cases that are settled prior to trial.
There is an inherent inaccuracy in trying to rely on jury verdicts to determine what the value of  a slip and fall case is really worth.  This is due to the practical fact that the good cases get settled, and the weak cases get tried by juries.  So beware of relying on services that sell you information on jury awards for the purpose of evaluating your claim.


 One statistic that is revealed is that the jury awards have dropped from about 59 cases a year to two.  That clearly reveals that insurance adjusters recognize that the Lanier case places the plaintiff in a much stronger position than he was prior to the 2003 Ky. Supreme Court decision that shifted the burden to the defendant.


 A study in 2001 of 53 slip and fall cases revealed an average jury verdict awarded of $31,132.  One of these verdicts one was for $264,000, so the mean or median award would be less than the average.


 In 1998 the average award for the 60 jury verdicts for slip and fall cases was $28,333.


 We would predict that looking at the average award numbers for 1998 and 2001 that the average value of a slip and fall cases is about $40,000,( see news article below) and that should be adjusted upward for inflation.  Or course we note that one jury award was for $264,000, and this number will fluctuate due to the facts of each case.


 If we factor in a value based on the shifting of the burden of proof, we shall call this the added trial risk factor .  We can tell that insurance adjusters have themselves recognized such a principal because they are apparently settling 95% more cases than before.


 We believe from the statistics provided (see news article below) that the insurance adjusters calculate the added trial risk factor  at 25% over pre Lanier cases. If this is correct, then the average value of a slip and fall case has risen from $30,000 to the $40,000 number, and this number is consistent with the Courier-Journal article.


 CAVEAT: To evaluate the specific case, one must consider the medical expenses, the loss of wages, and then factor in pain and suffering.  A jury will of course consider the assignment of liability under a comparative negligence instruction.  So the more culpable the plaintiff is in the slip and fall (inattention, visibility of the hazard, etc.) the value of the medical expenses and loss of wages, and P&I, must be reduced.


 We predict the average case is worth $40,000, but your case may of course be worth more or less depending on the facts of the case, and amount of damages incurred by the plaintiff.  A brain surgeon who is off work for a month will sustain far more compensable damages than a 75 year old grandmother who is unemployed.


 LawReader Notes:


 The Lanier decision shifted the burden of proof from the customer to the store owner.

See:  Valuation of Slip & Fall jury verdicts in Ky.  LawReader chart showing verdicts and losses from 1998 thru 2006


 Lanier v. Wal-Mart Stores, Inc., 99 S.W.3d 431 (Ky. 03/20/2003)
(The law prior to Lanier held)

 “Following discovery, Wal-Mart was granted summary judgment on the ground that Lanier could not prove negligence on the part of Wal-Mart in accordance with the burden of proof that presently exists under Kentucky law. That burden requires a plaintiff in this type of action to plead and prove, inter alia, that the proprietor or his employees either caused the foreign substance to be on the floor or, by the exercise of reasonable care, could have discovered it and either removed it or warned of its presence before the accident occurred.? …


 “Presumably, had the customer had personal knowledge of the presence of the substance/object before the accident, he would not have stepped on it. Absent his own knowledge or some other inferential proof, such as the melted Icee in this case, the customer must either produce a witness who saw the substance or object on the floor prior to [the] accident or face either summary judgment or a directed verdict.? …

The court justified their change in the burden of proof by saying.)
“Placing this virtually insurmountable burden of proof on the customer is inconsistent with the proposition that a proprietor of a place of business has a duty to keep his premises in a reasonably safe condition for normal use by his customers. Winn-Dixie Louisville. Inc. v. Smith, Ky., 372 S.W.2d 789 (1963); Layman v. Ben Snyder, Inc., Ky., 305 S.W.2d 319 (1957).?

(The law now holds)
“We hold that the existence of a foreign substance on the floor of a business premises that causes a customer to fall and be injured is not a safe condition and the existence of that unsafe condition creates a rebuttable presumption that the premises owner did not maintain the premises in a reasonably safe condition.?


 The Louisville Courier Journal published the following story on slip and fall awards.


 ‘Slip-and-fall’ awards, jury trials tumble
Settlements among reasons for decline
 By Jason Riley   Reprinted from The Courier-Journal Jan. 7, 2007
In January 1996, Anthony Juckett was shopping at the Hopkinsville Wal-Mart when he slipped on some cookie crumbs and fell, tearing ligaments in his knee.
The result was a $264,000 jury verdict in Juckett’s favor five years later.
It was one of 53 “slip-and-fall” lawsuits Kentucky juries decided in 2001 — awarding a combined $1.65 million in damages.
But those winning verdicts are becoming more rare across the state — the result of legal rulings, retailers who are more apt to settle and increasingly skeptical juries, according to court experts.
In 1998, more than 60 slip-and-fall lawsuits went to trial, including two-dozen in Jefferson County alone, with plaintiffs winning more than $1.7 million in damages, according to the Kentucky Trial Court Review, a monthly newsletter for lawyers.
Last year, however, jurors heard only a dozen slip-and-fall cases across Kentucky, and only two in Jefferson County.
And the total damages awarded amounted to just $378,000.
While the number of slip-and-fall jury trials has dropped dramatically, it is unclear whether fewer lawsuits are being filed, because no one in the state tracks them.
Experts say there are several reasons for the decline in trials, starting with a legal change a few years ago that made it easier for plaintiffs to prove their cases — and more likely insurance companies would settle out of court.
Plaintiffs in Kentucky used to have to prove the defendant knew or should have known about the danger, but failed to correct it.
But a 2003 Kentucky Supreme Court decision out of Christian County shifted the burden to businesses, requiring them to prove they acted reasonably in ensuring safe conditions.
Plaintiffs still have to prove they fell and injured themselves because of unsafe conditions, not their own negligence.
                                                  *************************
No flood of suits
Supreme Court Justice Martin Johnstone, who opposed the change, predicted it would flood the courts with slip-and-fall trials and would “substantially affect not only the Wal-Marts of the world, but also every ‘Mom and Pop’ (business).”
Instead, the opposite has occurred, because owners are taking greater care to keep their businesses safe, and settling out of court when they’re sued, some attorneys said.
“There is more incentive now on the part of the defendants to settle these cases,” said Michael Burman, a Hopkinsville attorney who represented the plaintiff in the 2003 Christian County case.
No one in Kentucky tracks how many of these cases are settled or how much money is changing hands, since many settlements are sealed.
Another change that reduced the number of slip-and-fall trials, according to some attorneys, occurred in the last few years when Wal-Mart ended its practice of taking every suit to a jury.
Shannon Ragland, publisher of the Kentucky Trial Court Review, said Wal-Mart had been responsible for about 25 slip-and-fall trials in Kentucky each year until mid-2002.
“Back then they had an idea that the smartest way to handle this was to offer no money to anyone ever and to try every case,” Ragland said.
Now, Wal-Mart is trying maybe one or two a year in Kentucky and others are settling out of court, Ragland added.
Wal-Mart officials wouldn’t comment on its legal strategies.
“We will take to trial any suit that we think is appropriate,” said John Simley, a spokesman for Wal-Mart.
Persuading juries to award damages hasn’t gotten any easier, either. From 1998 to 2002, 48 percent of slip-and-fall plaintiffs in Kentucky were awarded damages — and that number has dropped to 31 percent over the last four years, according to the Kentucky Trial Court Review.
Even in victory, the damages awarded are usually small, averaging less than $40,000 since 1998. Jurors, experts say, have a hard time blaming businesses for what often seems like a plaintiff’s carelessness.
Reduced damages
Earlier this year in Jefferson County, a Las Vegas teacher won a verdict against the city of Louisville because she tripped over a crack in the sidewalk at Third and Liberty streets in 2001.
Linda Mercier, then 57, fractured both knees and dislocated a pinky finger, according to court records.
But although the jury said the injury deserved $298,660 in damages, Mercier was only awarded $17,919 because they found she was 94 percent at fault for her fall.
“The idea that juries are giving away money just isn’t true,” said Mercier’s lawyer, Doug Lamb. “A lot of these cases are turned down because they (attorneys) don’t think they can be won.”

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