$500,000 Verdict

Date of Verdict:

October 12, 2012.

Court and Case No.:

C.P. Philadelphia No. 100500696.

Judge:

Frederica A. Massiah-Jackson.

Type of Action:

Premises liability.

Injuries:

Wrist hyperextension, aggravation of pre-existing condition.Plaintiffs Counsel:

Thomas A. Sprague and Stephen B. Lavner, Sprague & Sprague, Philadelphia.

Defense Counsel:

Timothy J. Kepner, William J. Ferren & Associates,

Philadelphia; Stephen E. Moore, Weinraub & Miller; Norristown, Pa.

Plaintiffs Experts:

Dr. Norman Stempler, orthopedic surgery, Bensalem, Pa.; Robert Blue, engineering, Blue Bell, Pa.; Dr. Stephanie Sweet, hand surgery, Philadelphia.

Defense Experts:

William Kirkpatrick, hand surgery, Bryn Mawr, Pa.

Comment:

A Philadelphia jury has awarded $500,000 to a woman who fell face-first in a bar’s parking lot after her foot allegedly got caught in an exposed cable wire, causing her to trip and fall.A three-day trial came after the plaintiff demanded $250,000 but was only offered $75,000.

On June 19, 2008, plaintiff Anne Stuckert-Davis, 47, a salesperson, and her friends had dinner at a restaurant located in the Gwynedd Center, along Bethlehem Pike in Spring House. The group then decided that they would have drinks at The Drafting Room, which was located on a property adjacent to the parking lot of the Gwynedd Center.

Stuckert-Davis claimed that at around 10 p.m., she and her friends walked over to the bar, accessing the premises via a sloped, well-worn pathway (approximately five feet in length) that was on the property of the Gywnedd Center that led to The Drafting Room.

Stuckert-Davis alleged that as she made her way to the bar along the sloped path, her foot got caught on an exposed cable wire that later was identified as belonging to The Drafting Room. She tripped and fell forward, she claimed, landing face-first in The Drafting Room’s parking lot. In an attempt to break her fall, Stuckert-Davis claimed, she had extended her hands, and when she hit the ground she hyperextended her right (nondominant) wrist.

Stuckert-Davis sued apparent property owners/managers Blank Aschkenasy Properties LLC and an affiliated family trust and its trustee for premises liability. The Blank defendants brought in the owner of The Drafting Room, DRI Real Estate Holdings LLP, as an additional party.

Counsel for Stuckert-Davis asserted that the alleged property owners had failed to adequately inspect the property for the existence of unsafe conditions; had they performed such inspections, the exposed cable would have been discovered, it was argued.

Moreover, the path allegedly was not festooned with any signage, fences, barriers or landscaping such as would convey to a pedestrian that access was prohibited. It was further argued that the pathway was not equipped with proper lighting, as there was no overhead or foot lights along the path. This theory was supported by Stuckert-Davis’ retained engineering expert, who also criticized the grade of the pathway. The expert said that its steepness violated both municipal and county ordinances, and that the property owners were required to have installed steps and a railing system, because the path was used as a pedestrian walkway. Finally, the expert, citing property deeds and surveys, concluded that the pathway was in fact located on the premises owned and managed by the Blank defendants.

Stuckert-Davis’ attorney cited the respective testimonies of the Blank defendants’ maintenance manager and vice president of management, who testified that they did not feel it was their company’s duty to inspect the area in question because they believed the pathway was not on their property. Counsel argued that despite this claimed non-ownership of the area on which the pathway is located, the company continued to maintain the area by trimming the area’s bushes.

Counsel further asserted that the Blank defendants had had notice of the pathway’s pedestrian usage, as they had sent a letter to The Drafting Room requesting that its employees and patrons cease their use of the unofficial walkway.

Counsel for the Blank defendants asserted that Stuckert-Davis should have been more careful where she walked, and was therefore comparatively at fault for the accident. Counsel suggested that instead of walking, she should have gotten in her vehicle and driven to The Drafting Room, where she could have parked in a designated parking space and safely walked to the bar. Furthermore, the pathway was not located on the Blank defendants’ property, it was argued; instead, it was claimed, the pathway lay on the premises of The Drafting Room, which owned the cable that Stuckert-Davis tripped on.

DRI Real Estate Holdings LLP echoed Stuckert-Davis’ theory of liability, contending that the pathway belonged on the Blank defendants’ property.

The day after her accident, Stuckert-Davis, complaining of swelling in her right wrist, presented to an emergency room, where it was suspected that she had suffered a chipped fracture; however, an X-ray was negative.

She followed up with her primary-care physician, who ordered an MRI, which did not show any damage. She was put on a two-month course of physical therapy, but the treatment allegedly worsened Stuckert-Davis’ condition. Stuckert-Davis then presented to an orthopedic surgeon, who ordered another MRI and diagnosed her with a right-central triangular fibrocartilage complex (TFCC). In February 2009, she received a steroid injection. Stuckert-Davis was then sent to a hand surgeon, who, in April 2009, surgically repaired the cartilage in her wrist via arthroscopy and debridement. She was treated with three additional months of therapy and follow-up visits with her physicians.

Stuckert-Davis’ treating hand surgeon attributed her injury and treatment to the fall and said it was possible she will need an osteotomy on her wrist in the future because of an exacerbation of a pre-existing wrist condition that was asymptomatic pre-accident. (No special damages were boarded

by Stuckert-Davis’ counsel.)Stuckert-Davis said she has immense difficulty grasping, pulling and lifting with her right hand, which limits her ability to perform typical daily actions such as opening a car door, turning a key and driving. Her suit sought to recover unspecified amounts of non-economic damages for past and future pain and suffering.

An expert in orthopedic surgery retained by counsel for the Blank defendants maintained that Stuckert-Davis’ treatment had been the result of the pre-existing wrist condition, which was not exacerbated by the trauma of this accident, it was argued.The jury found that the Blank defendants had been 100 percent at fault with respect to Stuckert-Davis’ accident.

No liability was found against DRI Real Estate Holdings.

Stuckert-Davis was awarded damages totaling $500,000.

— This report first appeared in VerdictSearch Pennsylvania, a publication of ALM •