Bernsen’s client, Pamela Parker, had sued her neighbors Duane Ahrens and Becky McCarty in Washington County’s 335th District court in 2014 for premises liability after she suffered a severe injury to her ankle after falling through the ceiling of the defendants Brenham home while they were giving her a tour of their attic rennovation project.
Parker alleged that Ahrens and his fiancee McCarty were aware that the flooring of their attic was not secure and failed to warn her. But Ahrens and McCarty denied liability in a response and alleged that they warned Parker multiple times of the dangerous situation and that the unsafe condition of the floor was open and obvious to Parker.
After Parker’s case survived two motions for summary judgment filed by the defense, the parties decided to take their case to trial.
“The challenge was, one, that it’s a small county. It’s a small town, Brenham, Texas,” Bernsen said of the Central Texas city with 15,000 residents. “They were confident that you will never get a plaintiffs verdict. And this is neighbor on neighbor case.”
The closeness between the Brenham residents and the case became immediately apparent to Bernsen during jury selection, he said.
“Everybody knew everybody. One of the panelists even said of the defendant, ‘Yeah, I’m his neighbor. I literally share a property line,’” Bernsen said.
During the weeklong trial, Bernsen put Parker on the stand and she looked the jurors in the eye as she told them she had no warning from the defendants of the dangerous conditions in the attic. And he also put on medical testimony from a surgeon about the three weeks Parker spent in the hospital and the month she spent in a wheelchair before she could walk again.
“When she landed on her ankle it exploded and her bone came out. There were very gruesome photographs,” Bernsen said. “That certainly helped as far as showing the injury.”
The jury found on Aug. 3 that Ahrens and McCarty were negligent and awarded Parker $368,750 as compensation for her injuries.
Bill Blanton, a Boerne attorney who represents Ahrens and McCarty, did not return a call for comment.
The victory was gratifying for Bernson, especially given the venue.
“What I always worried about was these jurors will see these people again,” Bernsen said of the defendants. “Will they hold them accountable? And they did.”