On July 27, 2011, Renee Thompson slipped and fell down an interior staircase at 715 East 182nd Street in Bronx County while on her way to visit a resident in the basement apartment there. Ms. Thompson, a 42 year old salesperson, sued the property owner and manager alleging that she slipped on a trash bag just below the upper landing of the stairway which was unlit and without proper handrails.
The jury ruled in plaintiff’s favor on liability and then awarded her pain and suffering damages in the sum of $350,000 ($175,000 past – eight years, $175,000 future – 13 years).
Defendants appealed claiming, among other grounds, that the trial judge should not have submitted to the jury plaintiff’s theory of liability premised on lack of a handrail. In Thompson v . Rodney (1st Dept. 2022), the appellate court agreed and ordered a new trial on liability.
Here are the injury details:
- bimalleolar ankle fracture
- open reduction internal fixation surgery with insertion of plate, seven screws and wires
- four weeks of physical therapy
- residual pain and instability with likely future development of arthritis and need for additional surgery
The defendants argued that the stairway was safe, plaintiff’s testimony was inconsistent as to the lights, handrail and garbage, she was not credible and the fall was her own fault. They also noted that the incident took place at 3 a.m. and plaintiff admitted to having one drink that evening; in summation, their counsel stated “I am going to ask you to ask yourself why bother stating that you had one drink? What is it that Renee Thompson is not telling us?”
- In his summation, plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury to award pain and suffering damages in the sum of $1,500,000; his pretrial settlement demand was for $150,000. There was no offer.
- Plaintiff was going to visit her boyfriend at the premises that night; he was the live-in porter for the building.
- The defense was precluded from introducing into evidence the ambulance call report which stated that plaintiff had 3-4 drinks that evening and was intoxicated.