This article will examine a trip and fall on stairs that caused potentially catastrophic injuries and medical expenses for the Plaintiff and possibly for the landlord. 

Facts

Gabal was a 29 year old female guest of a tenant who was walking down the exterior stairs when she tripped and fell.  She asserted that the stairs were dangerous and caused her fall.  The Defendant disputed her argument and her alleged injuries.  In particular, the Defendant [landlord] asserted that Gabal failed to wear medically prescribed ankle braces which contributed to her fall. 

The plaintiff’s architect testified that the stairs were dangerous as a result of a slope on the bottom stair, the lack of uniformity and a variance between the stair tread/riser ratio.

Post fall, Gabal was diagnosed with tendon tears of the ankle.  She had reconstructive surgery on her ankle and later developed RSD/complex regional pain syndrome (CRPS).  After a series of nerve blocks, a spinal cord simulator was implanted.  Gabal’s treating orthopedic surgeon testified that the two torn tendons in her ankle were caused by the subject fall.

Gabal offered the jury a life care plan projecting her future medical needs of $600,000 which assumed replacement of the spinal cord stimulator battery five to six times over the course of her remaining life expectancy of nearly 52 years.  Gabal was a retail sales associate at the time of the fall but did not assert a claim for lost wages or loss of future earning capacity at the time of trial. 

Defendant’s Claim

The Defendant offered a human factors expert who stated that the stairs constructed in 1989 were not dangerous, even if there was a potential building code defect.  The Defendant also offered an expert architect who stated that the stairs met the 1985 building code and that the 1985 Life Safety Code did not contain any provision regarding the slope.

The defendant also called a podiatrist who testified that the diagnostic films, before and after the accident, were not significantly different.  The expert didn’t think Gabal had RSD and further stated that if she had been wearing her ankle braces, the accident could have been avoided or lessened.

The defendant finally called a pain management expert who testified that a number of the items in Gabal’s proposed life care plan were unnecessary and that there were no restrictions on her physical activities of daily living.  This expert further testified that Gabal had preexisting foot and ankle conditions which impacted her current condition and that her failure to wear the prescribed ankle braces likely contributed to her fall. 

The Verdict

The jury found that the Defendant was not negligent but Gabal has filed a motion seeking to set aside the jury’s verdict. 

Take Away

This case illustrates the importance of making sure a landlord’s apartment complex meets the importance of any and all applicable code requirements imposed on the building. 

In this case, the strongest argument may have been that if there was any technical noncompliance with the applicable building code, it was technical only and didn’t contribute to Gabal’s injuries.  Especially important was Gabal’s preexisting ankle condition requiring ankle braces that she wasn’t wearing at the time of the accident.

At trial, Gabal sought recover of $920,000 but prior to trial, the Defendant had offered to pay $50,000.  Given the wide gap between these figures, it became apparent that the case had to be tried. 

Reprinted with permission from The KEY Magazine, Apartment Association of Greater Orlando.