A federal jury returned this substantial verdict on Wednesday in favor of a 71-year-old Bucks County woman in a trip and fall case. The woman was working as a sales representative for General Mills in the Pathmark supermarket at Franklin Mills in Philadelphia when she tripped over a file box that Pathmark employees had placed to prop open a back office door, after a rubber door stopper had worn out.
The woman was represented by Robert Slota, Jr. of Hamburg, Rubin, Mullin, Maxwell & Lupin in Montgomery County.
The eight member federal jury was composed entirely of jurors from counties outside of Philadelphia. Plaintiff had originally filed in Philadelphia, but Defendants, Pathmark Stores, Inc. and A&P removed the case to federal court. The highest settlement offer by Pathmark prior to trial was $75,000.
Plaintiff overcame the usual defense in trip and fall cases, which is to blame the injured person and argue that the injured person themself was negligent for not seeing the hazard.
Slota also overcame the normal belief of jurors, one often shared by lawyers and judges, that trip and fall accidents are not serious matters. Slota presented evidence that trip and fall accidents are the number one cause of injury in the retail industry generally and in the supermarket business in particular. Fall injuries injure more store customers and workers and any other type of accident.
To further overcome the "blame the injured person defense" Slota focused on the Pathmark corporation's actions by emphasizing that the company had 125 stores, yet had no corporate safety officer, no corporate safety committee, and no safety training for the personnel of the Franklin Mills store. Slota presented expert evidence that the industry standard is to keep aisles and doorways clear of trip hazards and that such standards were readily available to a large company like Pathmark. Said Slota, "by emphasizing the corporate failure to create a culture of safety, we were able to give the jury a reason to explain how the personnel in the Franklin Mills store could leave a box in an office doorway for weeks on end."
Throughout the trial, Slota made frequent use of a wedge shaped rubber door stopper he bought for $4.95 at Home Depot. "It was the cheapest trial exhibit I've ever paid for." No witness from Pathmark could explain why Pathmark could not have done the same thing to protect workers and prevent this injury.
Slota's client suffered a fracture of her dominant shoulder which required surgical repair and a metal implant. She had a poor outcome and was forced to give up her job and give up driving and has become dependent on friends and family for getting out of her house. Slota told the jury that the dollars they included in their verdict could give his client a worry-free future by providing the means to hire a driving service, assistance in the home, and help doing everyday tasks. Said Slota, "Now this jury's verdict can give my client peace of mind in the future, so she will not have to worry about being trapped in her house or forced into a nursing home if something should happen to the family and friends are currently taking care of her."
Ferguson v. Pathmark, Inc. et al U.S. District Court for Eastern District of Pa., Civil Action, No. 2:13-cv-00778.
Defendant's counsel was Jay Branderbit of Kent & McBride (Philadelphia)