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Anatomy of a Good Verdict

Premises Liability

Snow and Ice—Negligent Maintenance—Parking Lot

Engineer fell in parking lot while attending night classes

Verdict $575,000.00

Case Bruce Cox v. Dean Institute of Technology Inc., No. GD0980997747

Court Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas, PA

Judge Michael E. McCarthy

Plaintiff Attorney John A. Adamczyk, Adamczyk Law Offices, LLP, Pittsburgh PA

Defense Attorney Scott A. Millhouse, Meyer, Darragh, Buckler, Bebeneck & Eck, P.L.L.C., Pittsburgh, PA

Facts and Allegations

Plaintiff Bruce Cox, 29, an electrician, slipped and fell while traversing the parking lot of the Dean Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. Cox, who was taking electrician classes at the institute, alleged that snow that accumulated days prior melted, turned into ice and was left untreated, causing him to fall.

Cox sued Dean Institute of Technology Inc., Pittsburgh, for premises liability (negligent maintenance), claiming injuries.

Plaintiff’s counsel argued that in addition to the defendant’s failure to properly maintain the icy parking lot, a flood light designated to illuminate the area was not working at the time and concealed the icy conditions.

The defendant denied the allegations. Defense counsel asserted that the plaintiff, who was well aware of the condition of the parking lot and had walked on it previously, did not use reasonable care while traversing the pavement.

Injuries/Damages

Fracture, ankle; hardware implanted; internal fixation; open reduction; plate; screws; trimalleolar facture

Cox was taken to Mercy Hospital where an X-ray showed a right trimalleolar ankle fracture. He underwent treatment through a workman’s compensation physician and then came under the care of orthopedist Gregory Habib.

The plaintiff underwent an open reduction internal fixation on his ankle, in which a steel plate and nine screws were inserted, and he was subsequently fitted with a non-weight bearing facture boot. After continuing to experience swelling and tenderness, Cox returned to work with no restrictions in July. He sought to recover $23,605.86 in wage loss and medical bills.

Habib, relating his patient’s injuries to the slip and fall, testified that any future type of ankle injury and ligamentous damage could result in some post-traumatic arthritis, synovitis, weakness and restriction of ankle motion.

Cox claimed that he could no longer participate in the vigorous athletic activities he enjoyed that he was accustomed to prior to the accident. He sought an unspecified amount for past and future pain and suffering. He also claimed that the injury continued to cause pain on a daily basis and became aggravated while at work.

Result

The jury found that the defendant was 100 percent negligent and that its negligence was a factual cause of harm to the plaintiff, who was awarded $575,000.00.
Plaintiff’s Demand $150,000.00
Defendant’s Offer $50,000.00
Plaintiff Expert Gregory F. Habib, D.O., orthopedics, Pittsburgh, PA
Defense Expert None reported

Commentary by attorney John Adamczyk, Esquire: This case had its issues with proving liability as many of the facts were disputed by the Defendant and needed to be addressed and overcome.

Disinterested fact witnesses were brought to testify. The ex- maintenance man of the Defendant who was no longer in jeopardy of repercussions from his employer, the Defendant in the case, was brought to court to testify. He was the individual who originally installed the safety light that was claimed to be out. His testimony was used to emphasize the purpose the Defendant intended for the light which was to allow patrons properly see in the area of the fall. Fellow students there on the night in question who experienced the same conditions proved to be good, unbiased witnesses. Not focusing on the doctors opinion that arthritis may set in later in life when the certain damages of a shattered leg bone was more easily verifiable did not make the client appear to be over reaching. Showing the jury government life expectancy tables for the young Plaintiff to make them consider how long he had to deal with the future complications brought the pain and suffering home. The jury visualized that just because the trial ended, the Plaintiff’s problems would not. Knowing that the owner of the business always had a path shoveled and salted to be free of snow and ice for himself from his garage to the school but was too “thrifty” to provide the same for the patrons of his school and springing this on him at trial to answer demonstrated that he cared more about his own safety than that of the school patrons who paid his bills. Showing the jury images of the plates and screws now a permanent part of the Plaintiff’s leg was gruesome, Frankenstein type of evidence which greatly benefited the client’s case. Using meteorological charts to prove icy conditions existed despite a corresponding argument of a warm up of temperatures by the Defendant was also key. All of these efforts and others went into turning a case where the Defendant only offered $50,000.00 into a verdict of $575,000.00 and is a brief illustration of what efforts and skills will be used to bring the best results for any client we represent. None of these facts were known prior to taking on the case. Slip and fall incidents occur all the time without anyone being at fault. Indeed the law states that generally there is no liability or fault under generally slippery and snowy conditions. We take on clients who other attorneys will turn down under such difficult liability circumstances where much work and investigation is needed to establish the case for liability. Click here to see an example of how we get results when other attorneys give up.

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