I slip and fell at a retail department store from a slippery floor. I got injured. Do I have any legal rights here?

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Question:

I was shopping at store and slipped on some spilled soda in the soda and snack aisle. According to the doctor, I badly sprained my ankle, hyperextended my knee, and bruised by coccyx. Since this place is part of big chain, how much can I expect to get?

 

 

Answer:

Response: Contrary to popular belief, the size or wealth of the potential defendant has nothing to do with how much you can expect to recover in a lawsuit, or even whether you will win your case in the first place. (What it does have to do with is how likely you are to be paid if you win—after all, winning a $1 million judgment against someone without two dimes to rub together doesn’t help you.)

The first, and main, issue is whether there is any liability, or legal obligation, to pay. The fact that you are hurt on someone else’s property does not, of itself,  obligate them to pay you, any more than you would automatically be obligated to pay if one of your houseguests was injured while visiting you. Liability is typically established by fault, and fault is usually based on either negligence or intentional acts. Since it’s unlikely that the store or one of its employees deliberately poured soda on the ground to make you slip, let’s focus on negligence.

Negligence is basically carelessness. It’s whether someone failed to be at least as careful as a “reasonable person” would be. In this case, the store would be liable if:

  • Store employees knew of the spill and refused to mop it up or put out a “wet floor” sign
  • The soda had been there for a long time—store employees weren’t checking for spills, the way they reasonably should in a grocery store or supermarket
  • Employees were being careless in putting out soda and caused the spill

On the other hand, if the soda had just spilled shortly before you slipped on it—so that the store had no chance to react to the spill and take action—or worse, if you or someone with you (like a child) caused the spill, there would almost certainly be no liability. In those cases, the store was not careless and did nothing wrong.

If there is fault, then how much you would win depends on the following factors—and again, none of them have to do with the size or wealth of the defendant:

Your medical bills—you can recover for your to-date and provably future medical costs.

Your lost income and other out-of-pocket costs—have you been unable to work and therefore lost wages? Have you had to take a cab instead of a bus or your own car to get around? Have you had to hire any household help? Etc. You have a right to be made whole for your lost wages and costs.

You pain, suffering, and disability—if you have suffered any permanent loss of function (such as a loss of strength or range of motion in a joint), you can receive compensation for it. Or if the injury is serious and you have suffered a great deal from it, you may be able to recover for  “pain and suffering” beyond your monetary losses.

In cases of extremely egregious behavior, you may be able to receive punitive damages. When the defendant acted particularly badly, sometimes additional damages are assessed against him, her, or it to penalize them and act as a deterrent. There are called “punitive damages,” but they would be rare in the typical slip and fall case—it’s hard to imagine the defendant’s behavior being so bad as to warrant them.

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