Friday, January 13, 2012

Days Inn Found To Have Plowed Snow Too Early

Slip and falls on snow and ice in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania are quite common once the winter months roll around.  As I write the first significant snowfall is blowing through Pittsburgh.  There's going to be some slipping and sliding today.  I am also handling a number of slip and fall on ice cases right now.  I love doing research on past verdicts in the types of cases I am handling to give me new ideas and theories to best help my clients.  One such theory jumped out from my review of the verdict in Salser v. Days Inn.

In 2000, plaintiff Billie Salser, a 39-year-old construction company owner and former police officer, stayed overnight with his son at a Days Inn in Donegal, Pa. For those unfamiliar with the area, Donegal is mountainous snow country minutes from Seven Springs Ski resort.  At approximately 8:45 am, just before checking out, Salser went outside to clean snow that had accumulated on his truck (approximately five inches). While walking around the truck, he slipped on ice and fell to the ground.

Salser and his wife sued the Donegal Days Inn for negligent maintenance of its parking lot.

Both sides agreed that a snow plow had gone through the parking lot at approximately 6 a.m., and a Days Inn employee had begun shoveling sidewalks, and in between parked cars, at 8 a.m. The theory that I thought was so interesting was plaintiffs' contention that this snow-clearing procedure was insufficient given that the hotel's checkout time was 9 am.  I am not really sure what the hotel could have done differently- plow closer to 9 am?  It would appear that the jury, to some extent bought this argument.

The hotel, of course, contended that it had taken reasonable steps to clear the night's heavy snowfall. It also argued that Salser contributed to his own injury by not using sufficient care (which he denied).

As a result of the fall on ice, Salser sustained fractures of the fibula, tibia and medial malleolus of the right ankle, requiring the surgical installation of an orthopedic plate and screws. He suffers from traumatic arthritis in the affected ankle, and will require future surgery to remove the orthopedic hardware.

Salser also claimed a closed head injury from his fall.  Salser's son testified that he found his father unconscious on the ground next to his truck. Salser claimed to have suffered from headaches, nausea, blurred vision and impaired cognition and concentration after his injury, and the presence of a head injury was confirmed by Salser's family physician and his head injury expert.

Salser had planned to return to work as a police officer, and claimed that his brain injury had prevented him from doing so. The plaintiff's economic expert calculated his lost income at approximately $1 million, based on the assumption that he would have been hired as a Southern rural police officer, where Salser had applied. Salser also sought approximately $550,000 for past medical expenses, and past and future pain and suffering damages.

The defense denied that a head injury had occurred, and presented evidence that Salser had told ambulance and hospital personnel that he had not hit his head or lost consciousness. The defense also contended that all of Salser's neurological tests done at the hospital were normal.

After a seven day trial and two DAYS of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict as follows:

  $588,843 Personal Injury: Past Medical Cost
   $10,000 Personal Injury: Future Medical Cost
   $30,000 Personal Injury: Past Lost Earnings Capability
   $15,000 Personal Injury: pain and suffering

The jury however found Salser and Days Inn each 50% at fault. They found $643,843 in damages, which was reduced according to plaintiff's comparative negligence. On the loss of consortium claim, the jury awarded no damages.

Only the defendant appealed.  In light of how low the lost earnings and pain and suffering damages were, I am surprised that the Plaintiffs did not seek a new trial. Share this post :
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