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Date of Verdict:

July 17.

Court and Case No.:

C.P. Philadelphia No. 130303344.

Judge:

Eugene E. Maier.

Type of Action:

Premises liability.

Injuries:

Neck and back; soft tissue.

Plaintiff Counsel:

Daniel Breen, Rothenberg Law Firm, Philadelphia.

Defense Counsel:

Denise M. Mandi, Law Offices of Kenneth S. O’Neill, Philadelphia.

Plaintiffs Experts:

Dr. Richard Kaplan, physical medicine, Philadelphia.

Defense Experts:

Dr. James Bonner, physical medicine, Chester, Pa.

Comment:

On March 31, 2011, plaintiff Joseph Ragan, 31, an independent salesperson for third-party energy suppliers, was accessing his basement at 10031 Westbourne Place in Northeast Philadelphia. Ragan leased the property from Kathleen Dragoni and Thomas Garofolo III. Ragan alleged that as he descended the basement stairway, he grasped the wooden railing and in doing so it unhinged, which caused him to fall down the stairs, approximately 12 steps. Ragan claimed that he suffered a spine injury.

Ragan sued Dragoni and Garofolo on claims of premises liability.

Ragan’s counsel presented photos that reportedly showed protruding bent nails from the railing’s latch, which attached to the wall. Ragan’s counsel asserted that the railing latch was nailed rather than bolted to the wall, thereby creating a defective and dangerous condition.

The defense raised the possibility that Ragan had fabricated the accident, since there was ill will between the tenant and landlords. There had been disputes prior to Ragan’s alleged accident about whether various repairs Ragan had requested had been made to the property. Dragoni and Garofolo had successfully brought an eviction proceeding against Ragan and his then-girlfriend for failing to either make payments toward the monthly rent or place payments in escrow until their dispute was resolved. Moreover, Dragoni and Garofolo argued, they did not have notice of a defective condition regarding the stair railing prior to the alleged accident.

Hours later, Ragan presented to an emergency room with complaints of neck pain; X-rays were negative, and he was discharged with pain medication.

On April 7, 2011, Ragan presented to a physiatrist, who prescribed narcotic pain medication and put him on a course of physical therapy for approximately four months. During that time, a CT scan showed protrusions at C4-5 and C5-6, as well as degenerative conditions of the cervical spine. An electromyography study showed nerve damage at multiple levels of the cervical spine. He was diagnosed with cervical radiculopathy, an exacerbation of degenerative disc disease, and strains and sprains to the cervical and thoracic spine.

Following conservative treatment, Ragan continued to follow up with a physiatrist over nine months, during which time he continued treating with pain medication. No further care was administered.

Ragan’s counsel cited his medical records to attribute his injuries and treatment to the accident. (The case was tried pursuant to Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1311.1.)

Ragan, who was no longer treating at the time of trial (with the exception of over-the-counter pain medication), claimed that he continues to experience occasional neck pain and limited range of motion, which has impacted his professional life. Ragan, a salesperson, has been forced to stop going door-to-door soliciting business, since the extensive amount of walking was painful; as a result, he no longer earns a commission. He reportedly is relegated to making sales through his office. Ragan sought to recover approximately $14,000 in out-of-pocket medical costs and an unspecified amount in noneconomic damages for past and future pain and suffering.

In his report, the defense’s expert in physical medicine opined that Ragan suffered no injury from the accident and did not exhibit any residual pain upon examination.

After a trial that lasted two days, the jury found that Dragoni and Garofolo were negligent, and their negligence was a factual cause of harm to Ragan, who was determined to receive $17,500. The jury deliberated for three-and-a-half hours.

— This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication.