Jury box..Photo by Jason Doiy.2-9-11.054-2011
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A central Pennsylvania jury has awarded $4 million to a man who was partially blinded when he fell outside a shopping center.

Craig R. Milsten of Katherman Briggs & Greenberg said a York County jury rendered the verdict in favor of his client, William Waite, on March 17 after about four days of trial and less than an hour of deliberations. The verdict came in the case Waite v. Argento Family Partnership before York County Court of Common Pleas Senior Judge Stephen P. Linebaugh.

The verdict comes about 18 months after the case was initially dismissed on summary judgment. That decision, however, was reversed by the state Superior Court in July.

“This is one of those cases where you can litigate it for years and get down to the nitty-gritty, but you can take one look at the pictures and you can decide it right then and there,” Milsten said.

According to Waite’s pretrial memo, he was exiting a three-store shopping center along East Prospect Road in York County when he lost his footing due to an allegedly unseen single step near the entrance of one of the storefronts. Waite was 79 at the time, and the property was owned by the defendant, Argento Family Partnership.

The memo said the step was dangerous, since there were no warnings about it, it was the same color as the rest of the concrete sidewalk, and there was no handrail.

The memo said Waite had not been anticipating the step, and so he lost his balance. However, he additionally fell onto an Adirondack chair, hitting his left eye on one of the chair’s points. The memo said the fall left Waite essentially blind in his left eye, and, since he had little to no vision in his right eye, the injury has left him effectively blind.

Waite’s safety expert, Lawrence Dinoff, planned to testify that the injuries were consistent with someone tripping due to an unanticipated drop in the level of the sidewalk, and this was likely the sole cause of his fall. He further said, according to the plaintiffs memo, that the condition was unusual, and the property owner could have either altered the sidewalk to avoid the step, or easily warned pedestrians.

In its pretrial memo, the property owners said the step had been in place for more than 20 years without any fall-related incidents, and contended that Waite had previously been on the property about eight times.

A safety expert for the defendant, Robert Illo, also testified that the stair was not dangerous, because its color varied from the color of the nearby parking lot.

Milsten said the jury was likely swayed by photos of the step, and by a witness to the fall. The witness was an employee at one of the stores, and, although he testified at deposition that he had not previously seen any falls, at trial the witness said he had seen people fall on the step and that he had also fallen over it.

Milsten said the argument that it would not have taken much time or money to make the step more visible also registered with the jury.

“I brought out a can of paint and a paint brush and said this is all it would have taken: paint, a paint brush and 15 minutes of times,” Milsten said, adding that he also showed the jury a photo of what Waite would have seen on the day of the fall and a digitally altered photo of the step. “We digitally put in a yellow line and the difference was striking.”

The award was entirely for noneconomic damages, but the parties had also stipulated to about $35,000 in medical liens pending the outcome on liability, Milsten said.

Barry A. Kronthal of Margolis Edelstein tried the case for Argento Family Partnership. He did not return a call for comment.