Chicago Workers’ Compensation Lawyers & Illinois Injury Lawyers

What the Phrase ‘De Minimis’ Means and How to Overcome It in a Successful Illinois Personal Injury Case

| May 29, 2024 | Personal Injury |

There are lots of different approaches a defendant might take in attempting to defeat your trip-and-fall injury case. For example, the law says that minor or trivial hazards, such as most shallow potholes, cannot form the basis of a successful premises liability case. The key to success, then, is, with the help of a knowledgeable Illinois premises liability attorney, to find proof that the hazard that tripped you wasn’t insignificant or trivial.

One example of this was a woman injured on Chicago’s South Side. The plaintiff in the lawsuit, Rhonda, tripped and fell while walking along a parking lot as she left a lounge to move her car. The nighttime accident, which caused Rhonda to suffer serious injuries to her face and one knee, was a result of a pothole in the parking lot.

In cases like this, there can be a lot that goes into planning how to pursue your case. Cases like Rhonda’s present scenarios in which multiple different entities could possibly be defendants in a personal injury case. Deciding which entities to name as defendants, and which to exclude, is a vital part of your lawsuit strategy.

In the summer of 2015, Rhonda filed her lawsuit, naming several businesses as defendants. The defendants in the case advanced a technical argument against their liability that centered on the size of the pothole. The law says that a plaintiff cannot win in a trip-and-fall case if the tripping hazard was “de minimis,” which is a Latin phrase that essentially means too small or insignificant to warrant consideration. The defendants’ argument was that Illinois law declares all potholes less than two inches deep to be de minimis, and the pothole that tripped Rhonda was, at most, a half-inch deep.

This argument prevailed in the trial court, but the appeals court reversed that decision, thereby reviving the injured woman’s case. The appeals courts stressed that, while most potholes less than two inches in depth would qualify as hazards too small to create liability, “each case must be determined upon its own particular facts and circumstances.” In other words, if the pothole that caused you to trip and fall was shallower than two inches, don’t just assume that you don’t have a case. The unique facts and details of your situation may dictate that you can still recover damages.

Rhonda’s case potentially presented such a circumstance. She admitted her pothole was less than two inches deep (she knew because she was wearing two-inch heels). However, the woman had not based her case simply on the height variance between the lot and the pothole, but on an assertion that her heel became stuck in an area of broken pavement, possibly within the pothole. The facts that the accident occurred due to broken asphalt (and that it took place in dim lighting at night) were key to establishing that the legal concept of de minimis did not apply, and the injured woman was entitled to proceed forward with her case for damages.

Each case presents its own unique set of facts and unique avenues for success. The experienced Chicago personal injury attorneys at Katz, Friedman, Eisenstein, Johnson, Bareck & Bertuca have been helping injured people pursue fair and full recoveries for the harm they’ve suffered. To set up a free case evaluation, contact us at 312-724-5846 or through our website.

More Blog Posts:

TSA Officer Obtains $6 Million Recovery After Train Accident Inside O’Hare International Airport Terminal, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, Oct. 17, 2017

Illinois Court Upholds $1.5M Damages Award in Favor of Chicago Woman Hurt at Amusement Park, Chicago Injury Attorneys Blog, June 16, 2017