What’s a Fair Settlement Amount in a Slip and Fall Case?

No two slip and fall cases are the same, but understanding these factors can help you receive fair compensation.

By , Attorney · University of Michigan Law School
Updated by Charles Crain, Attorney · UC Berkeley School of Law

If you fall and get hurt on someone else's property—whether it's a business or someone's home—you could have a slip and fall claim. Let's say you've looked at what you have to prove to make a successful claim, and have decided you have a good case. Does that mean you should race to file your claim? Not necessarily.

Before proceeding with a slip and fall case it's important to have at least a rough idea of how much your claim is worth. That will help you decide if the time and money you'll spend pursuing an insurance settlement (or a possible lawsuit) is likely to be worth it. It will also help you negotiate with the property owner's insurance company—for example, you'll have the information you need to write a strong demand letter, and you'll know if the insurance company's settlement offer is reasonable.

In this article, we'll lay out the factors that go into determining the value of your claim. We'll also discuss how you might use your estimate of your claim's value in your decision-making, and whether you should consider hiring an attorney to assist with your case.

How Do Your Injuries and Medical Treatment Affect the Value of Your Slip and Fall Claim?

The nature of your injuries plays the biggest role in determining the value of your claim. Courts and insurance adjusters will look at the kinds of injuries you sustained, as well as whether those injuries heal quickly, require a longer recovery, or are likely to be permanent. They'll also take into account non-physical injuries like pain and suffering.

The Value of "Hard" Versus "Soft" Injuries

Insurance companies draw an important distinction between so-called "hard" and "soft" injuries.

Hard injuries are things like cuts, broken bones, damage to vertebrae, and head injuries—the kind of bodily harm that's visible to the naked eye or easily spotted on medical scans

Soft injuries are things like muscle sprains and tendon strains. These injuries can be difficult or impossible to see, even when doctors use MRI tests or CT scans.

Soft injuries can be just as serious and debilitating as hard injuries, if not more so—compare a "hard" injury like a scraped knee to a "soft" injury like a severely sprained ankle. Nevertheless, soft injuries are typically assigned a lower value than hard injuries for several reasons:

  • The medical services used to treat hard injuries are generally more expensive. For example, a damaged vertebra or torn ligament might require surgery, whereas a severely strained back muscle might be treated with physical therapy.
  • Insurance adjusters can be skeptical of claims involving soft tissue injuries. The absence of clear-cut evidence like X-rays of broken bones may lead them to suspect that a claimant seeking compensation for a soft injury is exaggerating their injuries or isn't hurt at all.
  • Skepticism about soft injuries can include skepticism about how those injuries are treated. It's easy to see the connection between, say, a cut on your arm and the stitches that closed the wound. And insurance companies generally understand that interventions like surgery, which are sometimes necessary to treat hard injuries, can be painful and require recovery time. On the other hand, it is more difficult to quantify the medical necessity and value of chiropractic care, massage therapy, and other treatments offered by non-physician practitioners.

This doesn't mean you should treat a soft tissue injury as less legitimate than a hard injury, or that you should avoid nontraditional treatments. You should pursue the medical care that's most likely to help you recover.

That said, you should be aware of the skepticism you might face based on the nature of your injuries and your treatment. You can improve your chances of receiving a fair settlement by:

  • keeping copies of all of the documents showing your medical treatment and its costs
  • following the courses of treatment recommended by medical professionals, and
  • writing down how you were injured and how your injuries have affected your life.

This information and documentation will help you (or an attorney) write an effective settlement demand letter to the property owner's insurance company.

How Does the Permanence of an Injury Affect the Value of a Claim?

If an injury is permanent—for example, if it results in disfigurement or an untreatable disability—it can result in a significant increase in the value of a slip and fall claim. If it's likely that you'll continue to deal with the physical, emotional, and financial impact of your injury for the rest of your life, a fair insurance settlement will have to compensate you for the costs that are likely to accumulate year after year.

How Are Pain and Suffering Valued in a Slip and Fall Claim?

Pain, suffering, emotional distress, and loss of enjoyment of life are significant consequences of an accident, and can make up a large share of an injury claimant's damages.

If your slip and fall accident was caused by a property owner's negligence, you are entitled to compensation for your pain and suffering just like you are for your medical expenses. That said, it is difficult to assign a dollar value to these kinds of less-concrete injuries. As we discuss in more detail below, insurance companies and courts often use a claimant's medical expenses as a starting point when deciding how to value pain and suffering.

How Do You Calculate Your Damages in a Slip and Fall Claim?

"Injuries" and "damages" are closely related, but it's important to understand how they're different. Injuries, as we've discussed above, are the physical and emotional harms you suffer because of your fall. "Damages" is a legal term that describes the monetary compensation for the harms you suffered as a result of someone else's negligence. Damages are divided into two categories:

  • Economic (or "special") damages. These are harms that are fairly easy to quantify in monetary terms.
  • Noneconomic (or "general") damages. These are less tangible—but equally real—harms like pain and suffering.

Your total damages are determined by adding together your economic and noneconomic damages. So, what kinds of losses are included in these two categories?

Determining Your Economic Damages

Economic damages include medical expenses, lost income and earning capacity, and other monetary losses you suffer because of your accident.

Medical Expenses

These are likely to be your most significant economic damages. They may include the cost of:

  • the ambulance, hospital visit, and other emergency treatment you receive immediately following the accident
  • diagnostic tests like MRIs and CT scans
  • pain medication and other drugs (both prescription and over-the-counter) necessary for treating your injuries, and
  • physical and occupational therapy.

If your injuries are severe then the cost of in-home care might be another medical expense. You should keep all records of your medical expenses and total them separately from other costs.

Loss of Income and Loss of Earning Capacity

Your damages include more than the money you have to pay because of your injury—they also include the money your injury prevented you from earning.

If your injury prevented you from working, you should make sure to document your lost income—for example, by asking your company's human resources department to write a letter detailing your lost pay and your use of paid time off.

If you're self-employed, this documentation may take a little more work. You'll need to keep track of lost opportunities, like customers you were unable to meet and projects you weren't able to take on. Your pre-injury business and financial records will be a helpful point of comparison.

Other Out-of-Pocket Expenses

Medical costs and loss of income are the major defined categories of economic damages. It's important to remember, though, that you are entitled to compensation for any financial costs brought on by your injuries. This can include things like:

  • hiring people to perform household chores you'd normally take care of yourself
  • nonrefundable travel expenses for a trip your injury prevented you from taking, and
  • changes and additions to your home or vehicle that make it easier to live with a long-term injury or permanent disability.

Calculating economic damages can be complicated, and there may be a lot at stake. For example, if your injury will prevent you from working for a long time—or permanently—you may need an expert witness to examine your situation and testify about your lost future earning capacity. If you have significant injuries and expenses, think seriously about hiring a lawyer to handle your case and make sure you receive a fair settlement.

Determining Your Noneconomic Damages

As we mentioned above, some of the most significant consequences of an accident and injury aren't economic, they're the tougher-to-quantify noneconomic variety, including:

  • your physical pain and discomfort and
  • the psychological and emotional impact of the accident and your injuries.

These damages are just as "real" as medical expenses or lost income, but much more difficult to quantify. To simplify the process, insurance adjusters often rely on a formula that starts with your medical expenses and then uses a so-called multiplier. As the name suggests, the multiplier is a number—usually between 1 and 5—that the adjuster uses to multiply your medical expenses and arrive at a value for your noneconomic damages.

So, for example, if you have $5,000 in medical bills, and the adjuster uses a multiplier of 3, then your pain, suffering and other noneconomic damages will be valued at $15,000. What multiplier to use will be an important point as you (or your lawyer) negotiate with the insurance company. Higher multipliers are used for more serious cases—for example, where a claimant demonstrates that the property owner was clearly at fault, that their injuries were obvious and severe, or that they've suffered long-term or permanent disability.

What Happens if You're Partially to Blame for the Accident?

The insurance adjuster will be looking for ways to argue that you are either partially or entirely responsible for your own injuries. Even in a slip and fall case where the property owner is clearly at fault, it's likely that you'll end up being assigned at least some of the blame.

For example, the insurance adjuster will want to know whether or not you saw the dangerous condition that led to your fall. As you can probably tell, this is a trick question—if you did see it, then you should have been able to avoid it, and if you didn't, then you must not have been paying attention.

How Does Your Partial Fault Affect the Value of Your Insurance Settlement?

In some states, if your lawsuit goes to trial and the judge or jury finds you responsible in any way for the accident, you can't recover any damages at all. But most states have a more flexible approach—you'll be assigned a percentage of blame, and your total damages will be reduced by that amount.

So, for example, if you have $10,000 in total damages, but are assigned 25% fault for the accident, then you'll be entitled to a $7,500 court award.

These shared fault rules are set by state law, and judges are required to apply them in the rare event that your slip and fall case goes to trial. But insurance adjusters keep these rules in mind too. That's why the shared fault law in your state is sure to affect the value of your settlement.

Learn more about what happens when both sides share some blame in a personal injury case.

What Should You Do If You're Partially at Fault for the Injury?

It may seem unfair that the property owner and the insurance company are assigning you some of the blame for your own injury. But it's important to be honest with yourself about your share of the fault. That will help you (and your attorney, if you hire one) come up with a fair and realistic settlement amount. That, in turn, will make it easier to negotiate effectively.

On the other hand, don't rush to tell the insurance company or property owner that you think you share some of the blame. You have to be completely honest about what happened. But your potential fault is a defense that can be offered by the insurance company, and it's therefore the insurance company's responsibility to bring it up. If and when they raise the issue, you or your lawyer can negotiate over how it should affect your settlement.

If you live in a state where you'd be barred from collecting any money at trial if you're even minimally at fault, it's vital that you make the best possible case that you don't share any of the blame. Even in states where your fault only costs you a percentage of your total damages, very significant amounts of money can be at stake. If you're concerned about this aspect of your slip and fall case you should consider hiring an experienced personal injury attorney to negotiate on your behalf.

Does It Make Financial Sense to Pursue Your Slip and Fall Claim?

The answer to this question will vary based on the facts of your slip and fall case and on your own priorities and financial situation. You can help your decision-making by determining the net value of your claim. That's how much you expect to receive as a settlement minus the cost of pursuing your claim.

We've looked at how to determine the value your claim, including how much you should expect to reduce your total damages based on your responsibility for the accident. But what kinds of expenses will you incur as you work to get the insurance company to actually agree to write you a check?

For a relatively straightforward claim, where there are no significant disputes about fault and you have clearly defined medical expenses, your costs may be low. You might spend money copying your medical invoices and records. And you'll spend some time (which can be assigned a dollar value) organizing your records, drafting a demand letter, and negotiating with the adjuster.

If your case is more complex, the costs of pursuing your claim can rise quickly. As we noted above, demonstrating your lost economic opportunities can be difficult and require outside expertise. Similarly, if you have difficult-to-diagnose injuries or have received costly treatment, it may be expensive and time-consuming to convince the insurance company to compensate you for your medical expenses.

On the other hand, in many cases the costs of pursuing a claim will be high because the amount of your damages is high. You can use your claim's net value to help guide you as you decide how much of your time and money you're willing to spend.

Should You Hire an Attorney to Help With Your Slip and Fall Claim?

As we explained above, it may make sense to hire an attorney to assist with your insurance claim if you feel your case is particularly complicated, if you've been seriously injured and have significant medical bills and other damages, or if you're concerned about dealing with the insurance company on your own. On the other hand, many people feel comfortable handling their own claims without outside assistance.

But what if you think the insurance company's final offer is unfair, and want to file a lawsuit to recover the full value of your damages—do you need a lawyer then? In this situation the balance probably tips in favor of hiring an attorney. You may represent yourself if you choose, but you could find it difficult to achieve the outcome you want without a lawyer on your side.

How Will a Lawyer Help With Your Slip and Fall Lawsuit?

In a lawsuit, an experienced attorney has significant advantages over even a well-organized and highly motivated plaintiff, including:

  • A good personal injury attorney will understand and be able to navigate the often complicated rules of civil court. These rules deal with everything from scheduling and deadlines to how you gather and present evidence to support your case.
  • The right attorney will have the legal knowledge and experience to plan and execute the strategy that best fits your goals and the facts of your case.
  • An attorney who has handled many personal injury cases will have the temperament and experience to face off against attorneys representing the property owner. These attorneys will often be very experienced and aggressive—especially if you're suing a large retail chain with plenty of money to spend on lawyers.

Another crucial benefit of working with a good attorney is that they'll be candid with you from the start about how good your case is and how much money you should expect to recover through a lawsuit. Even an excellent lawyer can't predict the outcome of a lawsuit before it begins—or even after it's well underway. But an experienced personal injury attorney will be able to offer their perspective and advice on how they think your case will go.

How Much Will It Cost to Hire a Lawyer for Your Slip and Fall Lawsuit?

Most plaintiffs' personal injury lawyers work under a contingency fee arrangement. They'll pay the expenses of the lawsuit out of their own pocket, and won't take payment unless you win a settlement or a jury award. At that point the lawyer will usually take about 33% of that amount as their fee, and also use the settlement or award money to reimburse themselves for their expenses.

This approach is often used by plaintiffs' attorneys in personal injury cases, because so many accident victims are regular people who don't have money in the household budget to fund a lawsuit from start to finish.

Getting Help With Your Slip and Fall Claim

The value of your slip and fall claim can vary substantially based on the facts and on how you and the insurance company approach the case. If you have questions about the factors we've discussed above, or want to discuss your situation in more detail, it may be helpful to consult with an experienced personal injury lawyer. You can use the tools on this page to find a lawyer in your area.

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