Sherry S., 54-years-old, came to Chicago from California for a family wedding at the Four Seasons Hotel. During her stay, she decided to use the steam room. She was well acquainted with steam rooms, using one regularly at her local gym. The steam room at the hotel had two seating levels and a shower facing the seating levels. Sherry was the only patron in the steam room when she entered it.

She showered, then climbed to the higher of the two levels, where she lay down on a towel. After 10 minutes she had enough, and wanted to leave the steam room. She swung her legs down to the lower first seating level to get down. Standing on the first level, she then stepped down to the floor with her right leg. In so doing, her left leg slipped off the first level. She landed on her left knee, rupturing her patella tendon. Sherry required surgery and a lengthy stay at a rehabilitation hospital. Worse still, Sherry was prevented from taking care of her teenage autistic son who requires constant assistance with his activities of daily living.

Sherry explained that as she stepped down from the first level, her left foot was in a pool of water, not just ordinary moisture from a steam room, and that her foot slipped, causing her fall. She contacted the Chicago personal injury attorneys at Lipkin & Apter for legal support.

A fall in a steam room due to wet conditions does not mean that the hotel was negligent. Under Illinois law, you have to prove that some condition of the property was “unreasonably dangerous” and that this danger was known by the property owner and not the injured party. So we had to determine whether there was something deficient about the tiles in the steam room, or the construction of the steam room, or some other reason that contributed to Sherry’s fall.

We hired two experts to inspect the steam room: a health facilities expert and a tile expert. To prevent water from aggregating on the first seating level (which was also the standing area for patrons going to/from the top seating level), the area had to be angled slightly downward. Additionally, tiles in a steam room need to have a certain coefficient of friction, e.g. slip resistance, to prevent patrons from slipping. Engineering standards have been adopted over the years as to what constitutes a surface that is too slippery. Both experts found there to be a violation of safety standards, in that the first seating level angled backwards instead of downward, and that the tiles on the first seating level did not comply with coefficient of friction requirements.

This case was extensively litigated, with depositions of hotel employees occurring locally and of Sherry’s treating doctors in California. The parties eventually agreed to submit the case to mediation, to see if a settlement agreement could be reached.

Mediation is an entirely voluntary proceeding, with each party maintaining its right to proceed to trial if the mediation proves contrary to their liking. It’s only purpose is to promote settlement. The advantage of mediation is that it is far less costly, does not require witness testimony, and is quicker than litigation. At a point when mediation occurs, trial may be months, or longer, in the future. The mediator has to be agreed upon by the parties, in this case a respected former appellate court judge. After several hours of mediation, the hotel offered, and Sherry accepted a settlement of $350,000.