A young woman arrives at her friend’s wedding at the beautiful Lincoln Park restaurant anticipating seeing her friends, having fun, and celebrating the bride and groom as a couple.
Instead, she left bloody, sliced open, and in need of surgery.
How could this happen?
It was a beautiful August night in 2014, and our client, a young accountant in her 20s, was anticipating a night of dancing, drinking, and conversations with friends at a friend’s wedding. She wore one of her favorite dresses, and stepped out ready for a night of enjoyment.
At one point, she was standing talking to friends near the bar and dance floor when, without warning, a light fixture came loose from the ceiling slamming into her head and slicing open her left wrist.
As her friends and other wedding guests rushed to her aid, she felt faint almost instantly, having sustained a concussion when the heavy light fixture crashed into her skull. Her dress was instantly covered with blood, and her left wrist was cut. At first, she was most concerned about the head injury and cut to her head.
The emergency room diagnosed her with a concussion, stapled closed her head wounds, and told her to follow up with doctors in a day or two.
The follow up appointment with the orthopaedic doctor revealed that the wrist injury was far worse than merely a bad cut. In fact, the fixture had severed a nerve. While surgery was initially deferred, it ultimately became obvious that the nerve would not regenerate without surgical intervention.
For several months, she remained in various braces following the surgery. Once the sutures were removed, she watched the scarring on her wrist hoping it would not be permanent. She made sure to wear a large watch or bracelet on her wrist once she could stand things rubbing on it in order to cover up the unsightly scar.
She also had major issues with typing, gripping, carrying things, and had reduced or little sensation in several fingers.
Right after the wedding, she was scheduled to begin a job as an accountant, having received a written job offer which she had accepted. After the injury, she had to inform them that she could not perform the work as anticipated. She did not get back to work for nearly half a year.
After many months of therapy, she did regain most of her functional use of her left hand, wrist, and arm, but still suffered some sensory deficits. Her head still had a scar on it, but she was fortunate to be blessed with thick, dark hair, which covered the scar up if she parted her hair a certain way. The wrist scar remained.
When it became apparent the insurer for the restaurant would not offer a fair amount for her injuries, our firm filed suit on her behalf. It was shortly after this that negotiations to settle her case began in earnest, at the behest of the restaurant’s insurance carrier.
The difficulty with scar cases is that they are worth less as the client heals more. Time is a friend of the insurer, and, nearly two years after the injury, our client’s wrist scar was finally beginning to fade to the point it was not as “Frankenstein-looking” as it had been 18 months before.
Further, the client’s lost wages were contested. They always are. In this case, while she had a written offer of a job, it was not written contemporaneously, only after the incident occurred and she was unable to take the job. It would have been a better scenario had she already begun working there.
We also had to prove liability. We had two main theories. One, negligence, alleged that the restaurant had to reasonably ensure its environs were safe, by regularly inspecting all fixtures. We were pretty sure they didn’t do that well enough. A second prong of liability was a doctrine known as res ipsa loqitur, literally "the thing speaks for itself." We argued that ceiling fixtures should never fall on people and that if they do, it must be because someone was negligent. We were reasonably confident we could prove this prong too.
That left us with damages. A fading scar on a wrist and a scar that is not visible on the head. Juries tend to be less-than-generous to people who "appear" to be just fine, able to work, and functional. Fortunately, our client recovered from her concussion and had no residual effects. Her great healing meant the "upside" at trial might be limited. Was it worth the gamble? Was it worth spending possibly tens of thousands of dollars on experts without that upside?
We talked in detail with our client about the pros and cons, risks and rewards, of trial versus settlement.
Since our client is extremely intelligent and asked in-depth questions, the decision to settle was ultimately her well-informed one. The resulting settlement paid all her medical bills, reimbursed her for lost wages, paid her a sum for both pain and suffering (personal injury cases are tax-free).
In the end, settlements are never 100% wins for either side. Each side compromises in the recognition that going to trial is a risk. In the end, our client got justice. Justice is never perfect, but a good result is always a step forward.