Updated on June 1, 2023
A 48-year-old Florida man injured during a fall in a Burger King bathroom was awarded one of the largest slip-and-fall verdicts in the state’s history after a jury found the restaurant liable for his injuries.
Originally offered a $200,000 insurance settlement, Richard Tulecki took Burger King to court and wound up with a $7.8 million verdict to compensate him for medical expenses, pain and suffering, and lost earnings.
The case is a textbook example of how it’s sometimes necessary to file a personal injury lawsuit when an insurance company tries to underpay a claim.
Man Suffers Serious Injuries in Bathroom Fall
Tulecki was visiting a Burger King restaurant in July 2019 when he “slipped and fell on a wet foreign substance” and suffered “serious injuries,” according to Business Insider.
The fall caused back injuries resulting in surgery complicated by a postoperative perforated colon, his attorneys said in a statement. They told CBS News the injuries forced Tulecki to stop working, which hurt him not only financially, but also emotionally, as working was “a major part of his identity.”
At the time of his trial Tulecki had already incurred around $130,000 in medical expenses. He is expected to continue paying large sums for doctor bills, hospital bills, and related expenses due to his injuries.
Jury Finds Burger King 100% At Fault
The jury deliberated for roughly 2.5 hours before delivering the $7.8 million verdict, which included $700,000 for past medical expenses, $1 million for past pain and suffering, $2.77 million for future pain and suffering, and $3 million for loss of future earning capacity.
Tulecki’s lawyers say the insurance company denied wrongdoing and initially offered their client just $200,000 to settle the case. His day in court resulted in him receiving 39 times more than what he would have been paid had he accepted the initial settlement offer.
The lawsuit alleged Burger King breached its duty of care to customers by exposing them to a hazard. It came down to the question of whether the restaurant actually knew about—or should have known about—the slippery condition that led to the slip and fall accident.
Attorneys for Burger King argued the plaintiff did not establish that management knew about the slippery condition. However, the jury sided with Tulecki and found Burger King 100% liable for the accident.
Slip and Fall Legal Issues From the Burger King Lawsuit
Injuries that occur on somebody else’s property fall under the area of personal injury law known as premises liability. The Burger King slip and fall lawsuit raises several issues that are common to these types of claims.
Compensation for past and future harm
Injury victims are entitled to compensation for the harm they’ve already suffered, in addition to the harm they’re expected to suffer in the future. In Tulecki’s case, he was awarded compensation for past and future pain and suffering and medical costs, as well as for lost earnings and lost future earning capacity.
Pain and suffering damages
Compensation for things like medical bills and wages qualify as economic damages. But non-economic damages (i.e., pain and suffering damages), such as physical pain and emotional anguish, often make up a significant portion of a personal injury claim.
Tulecki received nearly $4 million for his pain and suffering, both past and future. While he likely experienced pain from his injuries, his lawyers pointed out that not being able to work was also painful to him.
Like Texas, Florida has a comparative negligence law that could have impacted the outcome of the case. Texas’ comparative negligence law states that an injured person can be partly to blame for an accident and still recover injury compensation if their share of the fault does not exceed 50%.
If the jury had found Tulecki’s actions contributed to the accident, it could have reduced his award in an amount proportional to his negligence. For example, if the jury found Tulecki 40% negligent for the accident, his award could have been reduced by around $3.1 million to $4.7 million.
Actual vs. constructive notice
To prove that a property owner is negligent in a premises liability case, the plaintiff must show the owner had actual or constructive knowledge of the hazardous condition. Actual knowledge means the owner knew about the hazardous condition; constructive knowledge means the owner should have known about the hazardous condition through reasonable inspection.
Burger King contended Tulecki’s legal team presented “virtually no evidence” management was apprised of the slippery bathroom floor. But it wasn’t necessary for them to have actual knowledge of the defect—only constructive knowledge.
The length of time the slippery bathroom floor existed and the frequency with which that specific hazard occurs are two factors the jury likely considered when assessing whether Burger King had constructive knowledge of the danger to customers.
The right to reject a settlement offer
An insurance company settlement offer is just that—an offer. Injury victims are under no obligation to accept an initial offer or any subsequent offer from the insurer. Instead of continuing negotiations with an unreasonable carrier they can, like Tulecki and his lawyers, choose to have their day in court.
It is common practice for insurance companies to deny, delay, and underpay claims. An initial settlement offer might come with the implication to “take it or leave it.” Sometimes, an injured person is better off doing the latter and letting a jury decide how much their case is worth.
Juries are likely to feel sympathy for a person who is seriously injured and may be less sympathetic to a corporate defendant. Even if a case doesn’t go to trial, at the very least, filing a slip and fall lawsuit can put pressure on an insurer to offer a fair settlement.