Thursday, June 2, 2011

Slip and Fall Verdict Gives Insight on What It Takes to Win

I just read over the following slip and fall case that resulted in a plaintiff verdict and, combined with my own recent trial of a slip and fall lawsuit, it got me thinking about important factors needed for injured persons to succeed in these cases.

Before I get to that, the case that got me thinking was Danenas v. Giant Eagle that tried in Allegheny County back in 1999.

Danenas, the plaintiff, claimed that Giant Eagle, the defendant, allowed a dangerous condition to exist in its supermarket in the form of wet tile glue on the floor. Danenas, a 39-year-old female, claimed that she slipped and fell in the tile glue and that Giant Eagle failed to warn of the dangerous condition. The defendant argued that the glued area was blocked with barricades which the plaintiff climbed through.

The plaintiff testified that she was walking in the defendant's supermarket when she slipped on an area of wet tile glue which was not marked with cones nor warning signs. Evidence showed that the defendant was moving shelving which required sections of the floor to be re-tiled. A non-party contractor had put down the glue in preparation of laying new tile. The plaintiff's orthopedic surgeon testified that the plaintiff suffered an ulnar nerve injury from the fall which required performance of an ulnar nerve transposition.

Two of the defendant's employees and the contractor who was laying tile testified that the area where the plaintiff fell was barricaded by shopping carts and milk crates. The defendant alleged that the plaintiff had climbed through the barricades.

The jury found the defendant 100% negligent and awarded the plaintiff $ 52,329.

The plaintiff in this case had the odds against her as there were multiple witnesses testifying that she broke through a barricade to come into contact with the glue on the floor. It also does not appear that the plaintiff had any sort of liability expert on her side to corroborate the danger of the condition.

What I think this plaintiff had going in her favor, and what makes or breaks a fall down case, is as follows:

1. Plaintiff was credible and sympathetic. The article does not go into detail on how the plaintiff presented but I would guess she came off very well ie credible and likeable. Fall down cases are all about credibility, who does the jury believe and like. In my opinion, the plaintiff, in these cases, needs to present perfectly.

2. No evidentiary consistencies- The plaintiffs position has to be flawless or darn near close. In the case I just tried one of the downfalls was the myriad inconsistencies in my client's story. She was very believable and credible and was the definition of a good Samaritan. But she had an ER report in which it was noted that she said she fell as a result of missing a step (not slipping on a wet mat as was our contention) and she also a modified incident report. That is, the incident report initially stated "slipped on floor" and then later, my client asked to clarify the report and it was added in "slipped on mat." The defense wisely jumped all over this to portray my client as a conniver. My client was the furthest thing from a conniver but the inconsistencies proved too great a hurdle.

3. Breaking of a rule- Slip and falls often hinge on whether the defendant arguably broke a public safety rule. In this case, Giant Eagle admitted to not putting up warning signs. Yes, they may have barricaded with carts and boxes, but they didn't put up warning signs. OSHA requires stores to put up warning signs to protect the public from potential hazards. Breaking that rule helps the jury find liability.

4. Admissions- in this case, Giant Eagle admitted that the glue was on the floor due to remodeling. So teh jury knew there existed a danger...the question then was whether they too the proper steps to protect the public from it. See point "3" and you know they did not. The plaintiff has the burden to prove their case. Many times, the plaintiffs testimony, without additional support of admissions or other witnesses, is just not enough to establish that there even was a dangerous condition.

Certainly, there were many other factors that went into the plaintiff prevailing in this case. But if you have been injured due to a fall on someone else's property these are important things to consider was you decide whether you want to pursue legal action. Share this post :
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