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Case Name: October 2014 – Deborah Staley v. Allied Tube & Conduit
Venue: Chicago – Arbitrator Kane
Handling Attorney: Rachael Sinnen & Brad Knell
Case No.: 13 WC 06910
Date of Accident:09/25/12
Trial Dates: 06/19/14 & 09/15/14
Arbitrator Findings: $0 Award

Dear Clients:

With a recent Arbitration decision in favor of Respondent on all disputed issues, we are pleased to announce our victory.  We feel this decision provides a possible “road map” in trying and prevailing on slip and fall accidents.

FACTS:

Petitioner testified that on September 20, 2012, she sustained a fall while leaving work as lead freight dispatcher for Respondent.  Petitioner admitted she did not know what caused her to slip and fall.  However, she did offer that the floor was dirty with oil droppings, dirt and pieces of paper.  In contrast, the Respondent’s four (4) witnesses rebutted Petitioner’s testimony by testifying the floor was clean and there was no debris or liquid on the floor.  All witnesses agreed it was “a nice day that day and dry”.  There was no tracked rain or water on the floor.

The Petitioner then tried to allege that the pipes were leaking on the floor in question and that forklifts would bring in gravel from the outside.  Again, Respondent’s four witnesses contradicted such testimony.  Respondent’s witnesses also added there were no cracks or flooring defects.  Furthermore, the Petitioner admitted she was leaving work for the day and was not doing anything on behalf of the employer.

After the Petitioner had fallen, the Petitioner’s clothes were not wet.  There was no material stuck to Petitioner’s clothing.  The security guard who came to the aid of the Petitioner overheard the Petitioner saying, “my knee had fallen out and popped”.  In the post accident investigation, the Petitioner advised the claim adjuster there was no liquid debris or any cracks or holes in the floor.  The employer also took photos of the accident site.

LEGAL ANALYSIS/DEFENSES:

At the pretrial, Arbitrator Kane relied heavily on Chicago Tribune v. Industrial Commission decision in leveraging the Respondent to settle.  In Tribune, the employee fell in the lobby of the tower building.  As in our case, the Tribune Plaintiff did not know what caused her to fall.  However, there was testimony that there was snow outside and that people would track it inside.  The Tribune court ruled it reasonable to infer that this “unexplained fall” was caused by snow/water brought from the outside.

However, we countered Arbitrator Kane’s Chicago Tribune pretrial analysis by citing the First Cash Financial Services v. Industrial Commission holding.  We maintained that our facts were more similar to the facts in the First Cash Financial Services decision.  In First Cash Financial Services, the employee slipped and fell on a ceramic tile floor.  Like our Petitioner, the employee testified that she did not know what caused her to fall.  Also like our case, four witnesses testified that they did not observe any debris or water on the bathroom floor on the date of the accident.

Lastly, like our case at bar, a safety engineer testified that the “slip resistance” of the floor was within national safety standards (OSHA).  In fact, during the course of our trial, Arbitrator Kane recommended several times to Petitioner’s counsel to obtain a safety engineer to help his cause.  Petitioner’s counsel refused by stating each time, “it was not worth his time or money!”

The First Cash Financial Services court held that the act of walking across the floor at employer’s place of business does not establish a risk greater than faced by the general public and such risk is a neutral risk that does not arise out of employment within the meaning of the Act.

In preparing for and during trial, we made it our goal to distinguish the Chicago Tribune facts by proving beyond a reasonable doubt that there could be “no reasonable inference” of water or any other substance (i.e. gravel) existing at the site of the fall.  Then, we also made it our goal to establish that our facts or evidence were more similar to those found in First Cash Financial Services.  We believe we succeeded in reaching our noted goals provided the final result.

FUTURE CLAIM/LITIGATION RECOMMENDATIONS

  1. In slip and fall situations, take photos of the accident site.  Of course, taking the photos right after the accident helps “paint the picture” of the surface condition and can rebut Petitioner’s anticipated testimony.
  2. Witnesses are key in defending slip and fall cases.  Without them, employers lose.  Also, the more witnesses the better.  Remember, in reality, the employer has the burden to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the accident is not work related.
  3. In slip and fall situations, a safety engineer can provide valuable testimony as to the conditions of the floor/surfaces.  If credible, their testimony is hard to impeach.  Plus, in our case, most Petitioners’ attorneys will not want to take the time nor expense in hiring their own safety engineer.
  4. Lastly, before trying a slip and fall case, make sure you do your research to determine if you have a chance in prevailing.  If so, then “tailor” your questions and evidence to support your arguments.

If you should have any additional questions or comments concerning this decision, please feel free to contact the undersigned or Ms. Rachael Sinnen.

Very truly yours,

KNELL O’CONNOR DANIELEWICZ