Colleen Bradley v. Long Wharf Drive Ownership LLC, 1-3, et al.: A woman who injured her back when she stumbled in a pothole in her employer's parking lot was awarded $520,000 by a Meriden jury recently.
Colleen Bradley, 47, left her job at the Hair Club for Men and Women on Long Wharf Drive in New Haven around 5:30 p.m. on May 20, 2009.
According to her lawyer Frank C. Bartlett Jr., of Bartlett Burns in Cheshire, Bradley was walking through the parking lot to get to her car, stumbled on a pothole, twisted her left ankle and wrenched her lower back. "It wasn't a typical pothole; it was more like a depression in the parking lot," said Bartlett.
Bradley did not fall to the ground. Instead, she regained her balance and made it back to her car. She visited her primary care doctor who diagnosed her with the ankle sprain. But over time, even though the swelling and bruising went away, the ankle pain did not subside as one would expect for a common sprain.
In fact, Bradley said she had continuing pain shooting down her left leg. Eventually, her doctor sent her for an MRI exam which revealed a L5,S1 disc herniation in her lower back. The disc was pressing a nerve, causing the leg pain near her ankle.
Bradley received physical therapy and continued working at her Hair Club job, but she was still bothered by the pain. By October 2010, she could not stand the pain any longer and opted to have spinal fusion surgery on her lower back.
"The pain got progressively worse," explained Bartlett. "She was having increased difficulty working… the prolonged standing through the hours of her job and difficulty bending over to shampoo clients."
Bradley has been unable to work ever since the surgery. After the operation, the pain radiating down her left leg subsided somewhat, but some but the same symptoms began appearing in her right leg. Bartlett explained that something called a pedicle screw, used in the spinal fusion surgery, began impinging on a nerve. This required a second back surgery to address.
Overall, Bartlett said his client is disappointed that the surgeries did not provide more pain relief. He noted that a common result of the fusion surgery is that the added hardware in the back causes stress on the vertebra just above the affected disc.
"She's undergone extensive physical therapy, both regular and aquatic," said Bartlett. "It's helped to a limited extent, but after issues with the first two surgeries she's hesitant to go back and get that third one. She's doing everything she can to avoid that."
Because she was unable to return to work after a year, Bradely was terminated from her position at the Hair Club. The attorney said that the Hair Club chain had a company-wide policy that results in employees being let go after a set amount of time of being unable to work.
While still employed, Bradley collected workers' compensation benefits. Now she is receiving Social Security disability benefits. Bradley was living in Glastonbury at the time of her injury, but after losing her job she could no longer afford her condo and has moved in with relatives in Albany, N.Y.
Bradley sued the building and parking lot ownership group for negligence for failing to maintain the parking lot. The defendants, Long Wharf Drive Ownership LLC, 1-3 and their management company, Newmark & Company Real Estate Inc. was represented by Joseph Musco at the Law Offices of Brian J. Farrell Jr., in New Haven.
Bartlett said the defendants argued that they did not have notice of the depression in the parking lot pavement and that Bradley's back problems were caused by a preexisting degenerative disc condition. Bartlett said his client had been treated for some back pain five years before the parking lot mishap.
Settlement talks were unsuccessful until a couple weeks before trial, when the defense offered $500,000 to settle the case. Bradley, however, was not interested in settling for that amount. Her medical bills alone, said Bartlett, were $527,000.
The case proceeded to trial in November 2012 before Judge Vernon D. Oliver. Testimony lasted three days.
Despite the defendants' argument that they were not aware of the depression in the parking lot pavement, a property manager acknowledged that it appeared that the pothole had been treated with some sort of patching substance that did not remedy the situation. While there were no other known incidents there, Bartlett said that the management company, under its own policies, required weekly inspections of the premises and for those inspections to be recorded in log books. However, Bartlett said the company did not actually perform the inspections, nor did it record anything into a log book.
Bartlett said Bradley testified to expecting the pavement to be flat. But because she had worked in the same location for four or five years, the lawyer speculated that the jurors thought she should have been more careful. In the end, the jury judge Bradley to be 35 percent at fault. With comparative negligence factored in, the final award was $520,000.
Musco and Bartlett both filed post-judgment motions to modify the award. In a decision made by Judge Oliver in early August, some money was deducted for medical bills and some was added back in to account for post-judgment interest. The final total verdict paid out by the defendants was roughly $484,000.
"She's still happy with her decision to go forward with the trial," Bartlett said of his client. "She felt like she'd always be wondering what would have happened. Even though she got a little bit less, she was happy she went for it."