Chicago Workers’ Compensation Lawyers & Illinois Injury Lawyers

What are ‘Aggravating Circumstances’ and How Can They Help You in Your Illinois Personal Injury Case?

| May 29, 2024 | Personal Injury |

When you’re hurt in a trip-and-fall accident, you may face various hurdles in your case. One of these could be a defense argument that the hazard that tripped you was too small to permit a recovery. While the law does allow defendants to escape liability for certain small defects, the law also recognizes what’s called “aggravating circumstances” that can allow you to succeed even in spite of proof that the defect in your case was small. Understanding these and other aspects of the law that can give you a beneficial result even in the face of some problematic facts is just one example of how an experienced Illinois premises liability attorney can help your case.

An example of how aggravating circumstances helped an injured plaintiff was the case of Hollace, a woman who was injured after she tripped and fell due to a depression in a parking lot of the Route 59 Metro station. Specifically, she caught her toe in a depression in a pavement seam. The fall caused Hollace to suffer serious injuries, including fracturing her upper arm bone. The injury eventually caused the woman to have to undergo four surgeries and a total reverse shoulder replacement, in addition to extensive physical therapy.

Hollace eventually sued the City of Aurora for her injuries. The jury issued a verdict finding the city liable and awarding Hollace damages. As is the case in many civil cases, the jury was also asked to answer certain specific questions, called “special interrogatories.” One of these quizzed the jury regarding whether the depression that felled Hollace was more than or less than 1.5 inches deep. The jury stated that the depression was less than 1.5 inches deep. Based upon that answer, the judge issued a judgment in favor of the city. The answer to the special interrogatory meant that the depression was too insignificant to hold the city liable and that Hollace was not entitled to recover.

The injured woman appealed, and she won. The appeals court’s decision is very instructive on how you can still succeed in your trip-and-fall case even if the tripping hazard is not especially deep. The law has a concept called “de minimis,” which is a Latin phrase. In the law, it means that a thing was too minor or too trivial to merit consideration. If a tripping hazard was de minimis, it is too insignificant to be the basis of a successful lawsuit…unless there are other factors.

These aggravating circumstances can include things like poor lighting. If you trip and fall in a parking lot that was dimly lit, you may still be able to obtain compensation even if the flaw that tripped you was relatively shallow. Other possible aggravating factors are the location and the shape (length and width) of the depression. In Hollace’s case, she had proof that the area where she fell was “located in an area where it was likely to be encountered by pedestrians,” contained broken asphalt, and was of a size such that it could conceivably be hazardous by causing a pedestrian’s foot to become stuck and causing her “to stop dead and fall forward.”

These things were enough to establish that there were aggravating circumstances in Hollace’s case, so she was entitled to the jury award in her favor, despite the relative shallowness of the depression in which she tripped.

Your trip-and-fall case can potentially require numerous types of proof and various trial techniques and arguments to achieve a successful result. For your case, talk to the diligent Chicago injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca. Our attorneys can help you pursue all of the compensation that the law says you deserve. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

Two Chicago-Area Bicyclists Win Appeals in Riding Trail Injury Cases, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, May 2, 2017

4 precautions to prevent slip-and-falls during winter, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Feb. 8, 2015