See how a trip and fall led to a lawsuit against a railroad. This case illustrates how evidence can make or break your injury claim.
Here we review a slip and fall accident claim. In this case, a man was injured as he stepped off a commuter train.
When negotiations with the train company’s insurer failed, the man filed a lawsuit, determined to teach the train company a lesson.
We’ll look at how the accident happened, the man’s injuries, the evidence presented at trial, and the final resolution of the lawsuit. We close with a list of points you should know about your burden of proof in a slip and fall injury lawsuit.
This case study is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events, although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.
How the Accident Happened
John Wilson was a regular commuter on a train operated by Limited Transport Associates, Inc. (LTA), which had just arrived at its station on a late Friday afternoon. As Wilson was about to leave the train, he courteously stepped aside to let a woman walking with a cane go ahead of him.
Once the woman passed, Wilson stepped off the train. As he did, he accidentally stepped into a gap between the platform and the train and fell to the platform. Wilson’s foot became lodged in the gap, and he was unable to remove it.
While Wilson was still stuck, the train door closed. In a frantic attempt to get loose, Wilson injured his left foot.
Wilson was able to pull his foot out of the gap just as the train started to move. Shaken and embarrassed, Wilson limped out of the station without reporting the incident and drove home.
Injuries and Damages
By the following day, Wilson’s right foot was bruised and swollen. He wrapped it in elastic bandages and took over-the-counter pain relievers.
On Monday, Wilson’s foot still hurt, and he couldn’t get his shoe on. After calling off work, Wilson drove to the local Urgent Care Center.
The X-rays and examination revealed a severe sprain, and a small bone fractured in the side of his foot. The physician prescribed a walking boot for the injured foot and told Wilson to stay off his foot as much as possible until the swelling went down, and the discomfort subsided.
The doctor told Wilson he could use crutches for a few days, and to follow up with an orthopedic specialist if his foot didn’t improve in a week or two.
Wilson missed three days of work. He wore the walking boot and used a cane for another two weeks, then just wore athletic shoes until he could wear regular shoes comfortably. Wilson didn’t have any follow-up medical care for his injured foot.
A few months later, when the Urgent Care bills came in, he decided to file an injury claim with the railroad’s insurance company.
Wilson had $250 in medical bills and $450 in lost wages. Figuring that railroads are worth millions of dollars, Wilson sent a demand letter to the insurance company asking for $50,000.
Wilson was furious when the insurance company responded with a settlement offer of $1,200 in exchange for a full release.
Rather than try to negotiate with the insurance adjuster, Wilson met with an attorney.
The attorney advised Wilson to think about accepting the token settlement offer or negotiating for a slight increase. The attorney explained that Wilson was fully recovered from relatively minor injuries, and there was no hard evidence to suggest the railroad was negligent.
That’s not what Wilson wanted to hear. Determined to get a big payoff, Wilson decided to file a lawsuit on his own.
The Lawsuit and Final Verdict
Feeling justified by the added aggravation of having to file a lawsuit, Wilson raised his demand to $100,000 when he sued the railroad.
Wilson’s slip and fall lawsuit alleged LTA negligently allowed a dangerous gap at the edge of the platform big enough for a person’s foot to fit through.
The Railroad’s Arguments
LTA’s answer to Wilson’s allegations was that so long as the gap between the train car door and the platform wasn’t wider than 6 inches, LTA was not negligent.
LTA defense attorneys stated it was necessary for there to be a gap between the train car and the platform. Because of the inertia the train produced as it was moving back and forth while traveling along the track, it was necessary for there to be a gap of not less than 5, nor more than 6 inches between the train and the platform.
Further, LTA’s attorneys presented documentation that the train platform was compliant with Federal Railroad Administration safety guidelines and had regularly passed rigorous inspections.
LTA added the gap between the train and the platform had existed for at least 60 years. Anyone who rode the train knew there was a gap between the platform and the car and used care in avoiding that gap.
They pointed out that Wilson had ridden the train every week for the last four years. LTA was able to prove this because Wilson purchased monthly tickets on the train at a discounted price.
Therefore, Wilson could not claim he did not ride the train frequently, and, because he rode the train so often, he had to have successfully avoided the gap numerous times, all without incident or complaint.
LTA attorneys also pointed out Wilson had not bothered to file an incident report at the time of his alleged injury, and waited months to notify the railroad of his claim.
Wilson declared that LTA was lying and shouldn’t be allowed to hide behind the premise that the gap was necessary for the safety of LTA’s passengers and others waiting on the platform.
Wilson stated that the 6-inch gap might have been in existence at some other points along the train’s route, but at the place in which Wilson was injured, the gap must have been wider than 6 inches.
As proof the gap was wider than LTA stated, Wilson attempted to enter into evidence the measurements of his left foot. He tried to show the Court the widest part of his foot was 7 inches. Because that foot became lodged in between the train and the platform, Wilson alleged, the gap had to be at least 7 inches wide.
LTA objected, arguing that evidence of the width of Wilson’s foot was at best speculative, and at worst an insult to the Court itself. LTA stated the measurement of Wilson’s foot could have easily changed from day to day and even from hour to hour.
Wilson offered no other evidence to support his claim that LTA was negligent and liable for his injuries.
Resolution of the Lawsuit
The Court agreed with LTA and disallowed Wilson’s attempt to use the size of his left foot as evidence. The Court continued by stating Wilson himself took the measurements, and as a result, the measurements could not be verified.
After reviewing the admitted evidence in the trial and the closing arguments of Wilson and LTA’s attorneys, the Court ruled Wilson had failed to prove his slip and fall case by a preponderance of the evidence.
The Court ruled LTA was not negligent and did not breach its duty of care to Wilson.
The case was dismissed and Wilson left the courtroom empty-handed.
Important Points About Evidence in Slip and Fall Cases
- A property owner is not automatically responsible for injuries on their premises.
- Property owners must take reasonable care for the safety of visitors. It is not reasonable to expect a property owner to eliminate every foreseeable risk, like gaps at the edge of train platforms.
- The injured person bears the burden of proving the property owner’s negligence caused the slip and fall accident.
- Severe injury claims should be handled by an attorney, who can gather critical evidence that you wouldn’t be able to access easily on your own.
- Relatively minor injury claims can usually be settled out of Court for a fair amount of compensation.
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