April 9, 2016 • By Dennis Beaver
Picture spending a few vacation days with friends at a Laughlin, Nevada, hotel you’ve been to often, when one person in your party is injured due to the negligence of the hotel. You’d expect the hotel staff to help out, get medical treatment, take care of medical bills and reach a fair settlement down the road for any lingering effects of the fall.
That’s what Lemoore reader Cynthia also thought should occur. But as Bakersfield-based personal injury attorney Matthew Faulkner knows only too well, “That rarely occurs as so often the hotel’s risk manager will play the nice, nice, delay, delay, and then the deny game, hoping that you become so frustrated, that you’ll drop the whole thing, or string you along until it is too late to file a lawsuit.”
“Additionally,’ Faulkner points out, “Slip or trip and fall cases typically have severe injuries — such as fractures — but establishing liability is often difficult. Just because you fell on someone’s property does not make them responsible. People do lose their balance or trip over their own feet and fall. If it is your fault, the property owner is not responsible.”
But what if the only way for you to have been injured was because of their negligence?
“This past summer I got hurt while staying at our favorite hotel in Las Vegas. It happened while getting out of the shower and stepping onto the dry bath mat. It slipped, I fell and jammed my foot against the toilet. This required surgery in Las Vegas on my ankle and spending four days in the hospital,” Cynthia’s letter began.
“Now, I have pins, screws, a metal plate in my ankle and my doctors tell me that due to the extensive nature of the injury I will have lifelong issues with swelling and pain. This was explained to the hotel risk manager who asked to be kept informed of my condition, which we did on several occasions.
“But the last time we spoke, instead of listening and reflecting a caring attitude, she had an and condescending tone of voice, claiming that hotel was not to blame, implying that it was my fault.”
So, what might have caused the bath mat to slip? Having stayed at this hotel frequently over several years, our Lemoore reader had a good idea.
“They had just completed a large renovation on our floor which included replacement of bathroom tiles. They were dark in color and had a glossy shine. All I did was to step out of the shower onto the bath mat which went sliding and I crashed onto the floor. As ventilation was poor, the bathroom was steamy from the shower. Something tells me the tiles in this bathroom were not the non-slip variety and that’s why I fell,” Cynthia surmises.
Her medical bills — fortunately paid by health insurance — are close to $150,000. In any suit or settlement against the hotel, what was paid by insurance would have to be reimbursed before any money would go to Cynthia personally.
A Case of Res Ipsa Loquitur
The only Latin term that every lawyer remembers from law school is Res Ipsa Loquitur, meaning, “The thing speaks for itself.” And “the thing” is negligence. So, if walking home at night on the sidewalk you fall into a sewer because the city worker forgot to replace a manhole cover, this is negligence as a matter of law and they are responsible for your injuries.
To attorney Faulkner, Cynthia has a Res Ipsa case, because, “The hotel had complete control of the bathroom where she fell. These new glossy tiles are highly suggestive of an unacceptable coefficient of friction. In a steamy bathroom, the tiles became slippery, leading to her injury. Based upon these facts, the hotel has real exposure to a substantial jury verdict.”
The Arrogant Risk Manager Might Just Have Helped Her
It is clear that Cynthia could very well have a case of significant value, and she could pursue it either with a Nevada lawyer, or by retaining a California attorney and filing suit in Federal Court. Faulkner points out that her likelihood of a positive outcome might have been made much more certain if the Risk Manager did something predictable and yet completely illegal:
“There is a duty to preserve evidence. Here, by re-doing the floor or making it less slippery without giving Cynthia or her lawyer an opportunity to have it tested, this could guarantee Cynthia a large verdict, in part because of what we call spoilation of evidence,” Faulkner concluded.
We’ll let you know how this case develops.
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.