$240,000 for Slip & Fall injury on Community College campus

A settlement was obtained for a 66 year old client who was “visiting” local community college to attend a course on job interviewing skills and resume building. He was injured when he was caused to trip and fall on an exterior walkway outside the school building where he was attending the “meet and greet” session.

Initially he was not sure where or what caused him to trip because the area was constructed of large cement tiles, however he claimed his foot caught the edge of a raised sidewalk slab. He received emergency treatment at the scene and taken by ambulance to the Emergency Room where he was diagnosed with a fractured shoulder and underwent emergency surgery. He received physical therapy and had complications requiring a second surgery.

He ultimately had a good recovery. His medical bills were all paid by Medicare and exceeded $100,000. At the time of settlement, Chris DiGirolamo was able to negotiate the Medicare lien down to $13,000. It is important to note that at the time case settled, the matter was scheduled for a hearing before the Court to dismiss the case altogether because the School was protected from lawsuits based on Public Entity Immunity as well as Charitable Immunity theories. If the case had been dismissed, our 66 yr old client would have been left with nothing.

At the time of settlement, the matter was scheduled for a hearing to dismiss the case altogether.

The lawsuit was filed against the Community College, the Borough in which the school was located, State of NJ and 6 other contractors who had taken part in the construction of the building and adjacent walkway. The client had identified an area where he thought he may have tripped. The area had a number of loose slabs and it appeared the condition had existed for a long period of time, both necessary criteria to prove the case against the school.

During the 2 years of litigation, it was learned that the General Contractor and construction company that oversaw the construction of the building and adjacent walkway was not insured at the time of construction and had subsequently filed for bankruptcy. Ultimately, our expert, an engineer, determined the condition that caused the height discrepancy between the stone slabs was caused by poor maintenance, not defective design or construction. Therefore, the numerous construction-related companies were removed from the case. The lawsuit continued only against the College.

During the course of discovery, photographs that had been taken immediately after the fall by the investigating campus police were served and our client was shown in the area where he had fallen. He had had not recalled being photographed after he had fallen. He was shown in the photographs nowhere near the area where the loose slabs were located and in fact it was difficult to determine if and where there was a raised slab in the area shown in the photos. The investigating officer also produced a written incident report in which he identified a ¾ inch discrepancy, however such a discrepancy was not clear from the accident scene photographs also produced.

Ultimately he had a good recovery

The photos and police statement were a mixed blessing because they showed that the our client did not fall in the area that was obviously poorly maintained, but it did show a written statement offered by the college’s own police employee confirming a ¾ inch height discrepancy. When asked years later to confirm what he had written and saw that day, the officer could not provide any more detail and simply stated he recorded what he saw and stood by the observation. This fact alone allowed for our client’s expert to opine that such a defect was dangerous, grossly negligent and should have been remedied.

The head of maintenance was asked questions under oath and he admitted that a raised slab more than ½ an inch was too high and should be immediately remedied because it was dangerous. He would not concede that such a discrepancy existed in the area where the photos showed our client fell and he also claimed he had never been advised, nor had he seen any discrepancy of ½ inch or greater in the area.

Following the questioning of the head of maintenance a demand was made for any and all email correspondence between the head of maintenance and all employees. A reference was found in two emails drafted after the fall indicating concern over loose walkway slabs prior to the date of the fall.

Ultimately the College could not dispute the testimony of their own investigating officer or Head of Maintenance and instead relied on their immunity defenses which insulates a school from liability if the person claiming injury was receiving the benefit of the school at the time of the incident.

Just prior to trial, the College filed papers with the Court to dismiss our client’s case based on the immunity defenses. We argued that the ¾ inch discrepancy was palpably unreasonable, existed for a long period of time and could have been easily repaired. As for the issue of Charitable Immunity, we argued our client was not attending or registered for an actual class, but rather had gone to the location to meet the speaker and the fact that the speaker was at the College had nothing to do with the reason or rationale for him being there, it was mere coincidence.

The matter was conferenced by the Court days prior to the return date of the hearing on the motions and after 4 hours of negotiations, the matter resolved without the risk of waiting for the decision on the immunity defenses.