NeuwirthLawCase Matters, For Lawyers

This is not a popularity question because that line is too long. Nope. Where is your average personal injury lawyer least well received? I have found large property managers or landlords are probably those who like me the least. I have been to cocktail parties or chamber of commerce where I introduce myself and my professional work and the conversation just stops cold. It is a routine occurrence at this point.

So, why does a commercial landlord dislike me and my brethren? It is fairly simple. Business-people hate paying for insurance and perceive all slip and falls on their property as frivolous or filed by money hungry poor people, who don’t take personal responsibility for their actions. In truth, while there is always an element of personal responsibility that drives down slip and fall settlements, the secret to the landlord’s animus is that they could have avoided their sidewalk decaying, their walkways uncleared, etc. with the application of a little bit of money. When their conduct is indefensible, they get upset. Nobody likes to sit for a deposition. It is even worse when you are the property manager and your failures are just startlingly obvious.

I am always working on amusing cases where people fall on ice in parking lots. People walk into a parking lot and slip on black ice and break bones. I don’t take ice cases without fractures. The fracture tells the landlord it was a real fall with a real injury. The fracture also tells the jury that there was real ice there. The only remaining question is where and why and for how long. Usually, the cases are amusing for me because the defendant’s records are either non-existent, harmful to their case, or fabricated. Fabricated is my personal favorite. How or why does one fabricate a snow and ice record? Consider that someone falls and the boss says we need the snow and ice records for the day. The snow and ice records are not regularly kept or kept poorly and that is readily apparent when inspected. If and when I prove fabrication, the case is over and done with!

Pennsylvania has the hills and ridges doctrine and a bunch of other rules about snow and ice and the duties of property owners. Generally, the rule is that you cannot sue a property owner if there is ice on their property if it was snowing, raining on a frigid day or otherwise actively precipitating. You also cannot sue if the snow and ice developed naturally from snowfall. However, all bets are off when the snow and ice has been there for a day or so or has been moved around by shoveling, plowing etc. Basically, the Courts try to give the property owner leeway in clearing their properties during stormy weather. Generally slippery conditions is a bad factual scenario for a plaintiff’s lawyer. I recently turned down a case where a caller had undergone back surgery following a fall. After reviewing weather records for the day in question and going back over the client’s story, I was pretty sure that I would eventually lose the case if I pursued it to the end. So, I turned the client down and referred him out to another lawyer who might pursue it. But, I have better things to do than take a tough liability case for two years with an uncertain result. I had the tough conversation this week with the client rather than two years and a few thousand dollars lost down the road.