Tent Comes Crashing Down (Anatomy of a Premises Liability Case)

People at a festival

Not all that long ago, many of us enjoyed attending social events. We would flock to beer gardens, art shows, concerts, and sports events.

While those things may seem a distant memory, one of my clients attended one of those a few years ago and suffered injuries when a tent post and counterweight struck him in the head and neck.

Festivals Should Be Safe and Enjoyable

What could be more appealing than attending an outdoor music performance in the midst of a strawberry festival in bucolic and quaint Long Grove? There are cute shops, a covered bridge (well, there used to be until a vehicle smashed it up), fun restaurants, and candy stores. It all adds up to a beautiful summer day spent listening to music, eating, and enjoying life.

That sounds enticing until we get to the part where one of the supports holding up the canopy to shelter the attendees at the performance snapped. The collapse caused the lead counterweight to strike my client Gerry on the back of his head and neck, knocking him over. He went to the hospital complaining of a head injury and neck pain.

Our investigation determined that the historical society that hosted the event was negligent in erecting the canopy. In this case, we had to determine who actually put up the canopy, who authorized it and paid for it, and determine who did what wrong. It was not as easy as blaming one party.

In short, the canopy should not have collapsed, even in windy conditions like that day. The accident should have never happened.

My Client’s Injuries

My client, Gerry, sustained a closed head injury, often known colloquially as a concussion. The problem with concussions, from an injury lawyer’s perspective, is that tests for concussions are almost never out of the ordinary. As one neurologist opined at a deposition once, “the only accurate test for a concussion is an autopsy.”

Many people sustain head trauma and can describe their symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting, fogginess, loss of ability to find the right word or concentrate, or other symptoms, but there is rarely a diagnostic test (CT scan or MRI) that demonstrates anything unusual. The only way to “prove a concussion” is by the patient’s history. Obviously, there is no way to determine whether the patient is being truthful.

For those reasons, most defense lawyers and insurers downplay concussions.

My job is to educate them and explain in as much detail as possible how the concussion manifested itself, both in terms of the client’s own documentation as well as what their doctor noted in the records.

Gerry also suffered serious pain in his neck running into his shoulder. He received several pain-killing injections, which provided temporary relief. Again, the tests on him did not demonstrate any quantifiable injury that could be proved definitively to have been caused by this event. Since Gerry was in his late 60s, it was just as plausible that at least some of his pain was caused by a degenerating spine. Without costly expert testimony, that could be a disputed area too.

How to Compensate for an Injury

You probably think that in such a situation, the responsible party apologizes and writes a check for medical bills and pain and suffering.

Not so fast. We have an adversarial system of justice, which means each side takes a position of advocacy. Even if the canopy erectors knew they are responsible, they would not just automatically pay out.

That is one major reason why injured people should have a lawyer representing them against an insurance carrier that literally has handled tens of thousands of cases like theirs and has proprietary software and databases at their disposal.

Gerry’s head symptoms abated rather quickly, but the neck and shoulder issues persisted, requiring him to receive several pain-killing injections, which alleviated the pain for a period of time. When he got to a point where he could live with the temporary pain relief of the injections, he let me know he was ready for me to negotiate a settlement.

How We Got Compensation

As I do in every single case, I evaluated whether to file a lawsuit immediately or to deal with the insurance company directly. Many lawyers file immediately. I do not. Sometimes, a good settlement can get the client more money than if a lawsuit is filed, experts hired, and years are spent pursuing the case. In short, it is a cost-benefit analysis involving costs of litigation and time. It also involves evaluating what can be proven medically.

The medical records in this case showed very little definitive evidence that directly supported the symptoms coming from the counterweight hitting his head and neck. It was difficult to prove that all of the spinal issues were caused by the collapse, since the diagnostic tests demonstrated a significant amount of wear and tear or degenerative changes.

I established a rapport with the insurance adjuster. I spent many hours on the phone just talking to her, even swapping nightmare house stories.

The initial offer was on the low side, but within the range my client and I had discussed. His main objective was to pay for his medical expenses and have a little extra. My goal was to maximize his compensation. We worked through the numbers, agreed on a target amount, and I shot higher than that.

The final settlement exceeded that goal. He walked away with all his bills paid and a healthy chunk of tax-free compensation. We avoided the years of working on a lawsuit, hiring experts to testify, and taking a risk at trial.

While the settlement was not a headline grabbing amount, it was enough to garner a rave review from my client. Getting a client fairly compensated is the endgame.

Contact Chicago Personal Injury Lawyer Stephen Hoffman

As in all cases involving injury and potential liability, immediately get medical treatment and contact a lawyer with expertise in your type of case, such as premises liability.

If you've been in an accident and have questions, contact Chicago personal injury attorney Stephen L. Hoffman for a free consultation at (773) 944-9737. Stephen has nearly 30 years of legal experience and has collected millions of dollars for his clients. He is listed as a SuperLawyer, has a 10.0 rating on Avvo, and is BBB A+ accredited. He is also an Executive Level Member of the Lincoln Square Ravenswood Chamber of Commerce.

Stephen handles personal injury claims on a contingency fee basis, which means you don’t pay anything upfront and he only gets paid if you do. Don’t wait another day, contact Stephen now.