A Slip and Fall for a 54-year-old Woman Results in Her Death and a 5.8 Million Dollar Arbitration Award

A 54-year-old woman was returning to her job at an assisted residence facility when she slipped in a pool of water inside the lobby door, fell, and fractured her femur.  She required surgery to install metal supports in her thigh so as to allow her to be able to walk again.  Unfortunately, MRSA bacteria got into her wound and she underwent several operations and rounds of antibiotics to try to clear the infection.  The infection, however, had seeded in the metal support in her leg and become so bad that she required hospitalization.  Despite intensive care, more antibiotics, and several surgeries, she died after approximately 4 months in the hospital.  By the time she died she had incurred over $2.1 million dollars in medical bills.  She was survived by her husband and two daughters.

The 54-year-old woman was the only person who was present at the time of the fall.  Plaintiff’s investigation showed that she had only made statements about the fall to the ambulance personnel, the triage nurse, and her employer.  However, she had not known how the water came to be in the lobby before her fall.

Plaintiff’s investigation revealed that the water would pool in the lobby after a rainstorm because the sidewalk outside sloped toward the door.  Further, there were gaps in the sidewalk at the base of the door jamb which would allow the water to seep under the door.  An attempt had been made to prevent the seepage by putting caulk between the sidewalk and the door jamb, but the caulk had broken away in several places.  Plaintiff also determined that the tile by the door jamb on the inside showed evidence of weathering and cracking due to the water seepage.  Finally, plaintiff had pictures taken over a year after the fall of water pooled underneath the floor mat that had been placed in the lobby after the fall when it had rained the night before the plaintiff had arrived to view the scene.

Also, at an inspection during a rainstorm by plaintiff’s expert over a year after plaintiff’s pictures, plaintiff was able to videotape the water as it flowed toward the door jamb, bubbled up through the holes in the middle of the door jamb where the door locks go, and then flow out onto the tile floor.

Immediately prior to trial, the parties agreed to arbitrate the case before a single arbitrator.  At the arbitration, the defense argued that there had never been a leak and that the door jamb had always been in the same condition since the building had been constructed approximately 10 years prior.  The defense further claimed that the mat was present at the time of the fall. Plaintiff showed that the caulking did allow the water to enter the lobby in front of the doos. Plaintiff further showed the conditions described in the plaintiff’s statements to the ambulance personnel, triage nurses, and her employer were consistent with the water pooling in the lobby after rain and completely inconsistent with a mat being present at the time of the occurance.

The arbitrator found the defendants liable and awarded plaintiffs $5,841,418.88, reduced by the comparative fault of the woman to $5,257,276.99 dollars. Prior to the arbitration, the parties had entered into a high/low agreement with the high being $4.5 million, the amount of the available insurance, and the low of $1.75 million. As a result of the high/low agreement, the plaintiff’s estate recovered $4.5 million.