After two mistrials over the course of the past year, a unanimous 12-member jury has sided with the defense in a case in which a woman alleged she suffered a traumatic brain injury when she tripped on an uneven portion of sidewalk outside a rehabilitation facility in King of Prussia, Pa.
In Antonson v. Rothman Institute, according to the plaintiff’s pretrial memorandum, plaintiff Laura Antonson alleged she had just left the office of the Rothman Institute, where she had been a patient, and was on her way back to retrieve something she had left behind when she tripped over an uneven portion of sidewalk and struck her head and face on the ground.
The Rothman Institute had originally been named as a defendant but settled out prior to the first trial.
The plaintiff’s liability expert, Julius Pereira, determined following an inspection of the site where Antonson fell that the sidewalk had a three-quarter-inch-high edge that created a tripping hazard, according to the plaintiff’s pretrial memorandum.
Suzanne Basile, vice president and partner of defendant real estate broker J.M. Basile & Associates Inc., testified that any edge raised more than half an inch would have constituted a safety hazard that would have been addressed immediately, according to the plaintiff’s pretrial memorandum.
The plaintiff’s neurology expert, Dr. Michael Martin Cohen, said that, following her fall, Antonson suffered from dizziness, sensitivity to light and sound, imbalance, irritability and difficulty with concentration, speech and memory, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum.
The plaintiff’s neuropsychology expert, Dr. Rosette Biester, testified that these problems affected Antonson’s performance at work and recommended cognitive rehabilitation, according to the plaintiff’s memorandum.
The plaintiff’s vocational expert, Rosalyn Pierce, opined that it was likely Antonson would eventually be let go from her position as manager of the DeSales University bookstore, the plaintiff’s memorandum said.
But defendants Valley Forge Arcadia Associates Inc. and J.M. Basile said in their own pretrial memorandum that no one else had ever complained about the sidewalk where Antonson fell being uneven.
The defendants also argued in their memorandum that Antonson did not visit the emergency room immediately following her fall, but instead visited her family doctor three days later.
The defense also claimed in its memorandum that Antonson did not mention experiencing frequent headaches until a month after the accident and refused to take any medication to treat the pain.
According to the defendants’ memorandum, Antonson has continued to work at the DeSales bookstore and has taken vacations on cruises and to Disney World.
The defense also contended in its memorandum that Antonson had a prior history of stress, anxiety and difficulty sleeping and has been prescribed medications for those conditions, including Ambien, Oxycontin and diazepam.
Antonson also underwent several shoulder surgeries and a left knee replacement prior to her fall and has suffered from osteoarthritis since “at least the 1990s,” according to the defense’s memorandum.
According to the defendants’ memorandum, neurology expert Dr. I. Howard Levin examined Antonson and found that she did not suffer any physical, neurological or neurocognitive deficits as a result of her fall and that any emotional or psychological problems she may be experiencing stem from pre-existing conditions.
The defense also argued in its memorandum that, at three quarters of an inch, the height of the allegedly raised sidewalk constituted a “trivial defect” under Pennsylvania law.
In addition, the defense maintained that Antonson’s comparative negligence outweighed any negligence on behalf of the defendants.
“Plaintiff was about to leave the premises until she realized her cellphone was still in the office,” the defense said in its memorandum. “It is obvious that she rushed to the office to retrieve the cellphone so she could leave the premises as she initially intended and was not paying attention to where she was walking.”
On November 15, following about six hours of deliberation, the jury found J.M. Basile to be 25 percent negligent and Antonson 75 percent negligent, awarding no damages, according to court documents.
That verdict came after two separate mistrials.
The first occurred in November 2011, when Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Gary F. DiVito granted the defense counsel’s motion for a mistrial, which had alleged that the plaintiff’s attorney had questioned a defense witness on the stand about inadmissible photographs of the sidewalk where the injury allegedly occurred in an attempt to mislead the jury into believing the witness had intentionally destroyed evidence.
The second mistrial occurred in April, according to court documents, after plaintiffs counsel objected to defense counsel Jane North’s assertion during cross-examination of Pereira that she “was a religion major in college” and the defense objected to Antonson’s testimony that the defendants had insurance.
Plaintiffs counsel had alleged in court papers that North had injected religion into the trial in an attempt to “improperly bolster her credibility and attempt to seek favorable inferences and treatment from witness.”
Defense counsel, meanwhile, argued in court papers that evidence regarding a defendant’s insurance status is nearly always inadmissible at trial and that the court in Antonson had, in a motion in limine, specifically barred the introduction of such evidence.
Ultimately, Judge Paul P. Panepinto granted both parties’ motions for mistrial but refused to grant either side attorney fees and costs, according to North, a shareholder at Deasey, Mahoney, Valentini & North in Philadelphia.
North told The Legal last Tuesday that the case was “very contentious” and that she was “extremely pleased” with the verdict.
Antonson’s attorney, Steven Mezrow of Pansini & Mezrow in Philadelphia, told The Legal last Wednesday that he has filed post-trial motions in which he argues that the jury charge was “confusing and erroneous.”
“We think we’ll be trying the case a fourth time,” Mezrow said.