Very serious injuries can result from incidents of slipping, tripping, or falling down. A fall can end careers, from such injuries as broken bones, traumatic brain injury, spine injuries, and others. But winning a fall down case in Massachusetts, is quite difficult. A number of legal theories stand in the way of success for even a severely injured plaintiff. If the incident occurred on a municipal way, there is no incentive for an attorney to accept the case, since a Massachusetts statute caps recovery, if the fall was caused by a defect in the public way, at $5,000 – that’s right, five thousand dollars.
If an accident occurs on ice or snow, the plaintiff must show that the ice or snow was an “unnatural accumulation.” Mere failure to keep a walkway clear, even if the hazard is appreciable by the landowner, will not support a case. If a person slips on a foreign substance in a store, for example, on a banana peel or spill in a supermarket, the injured person must be able to present evidence that the substance was on the floor for a sufficiently long period of time, that the store management should have known of it, and had the opportunity to clean it. That standard is not an impossible task, but can be difficult. And, as I have written before, there is a suspicion in many jurors, that people ought to look where they are going.
Despite the difficulties, slip, trip, and fall cases involving serious injuries, are well worth investigation. Sometimes, a less obvious theory of liability will carry the day. For example, if a defect causing injury, in and of itself, does not seem substantial, the case may yet have merit, if placement of barriers forced individuals near or over the defect. Inadequate lighting may be a fruitful avenue of investigation in a night time fall down case. The more severe the injury, the greater the reason to explore legitimate grounds of liability.