Recently, in the case of Sam Dinardo v. Marriott Hotel Services, Inc. we won an arbitration award of $290,000.00 for our client who hurt his lower back after a chair at the Marriott Hotel collapsed. The chair legs folded in as soon as our client, a 150 pound man, sat on it. Our position was, and the evidence supported, that the Marriott was negligent because the banquet chairs were 15 years old and they chose not to inspect the chairs for safety as recommended by the chair manufacturer. In fact, after deposing multiple Marriott employees, it was clear that there was absolutely no policy or practice for inspecting the chairs or checking them for defects. The evidence even showed that the employees knew the chairs were missing parts, such as lateral support bars, or had bent legs and still placed them into service for customers to sit on. The picture to the right is a picture of the defective chair taken soon after the collapse.
The top offer from Marriott before the arbitration was $45,000, an offer we advised our client to not even consider and our last demand before arbitration was $300,000. Clearly, an excellent victory for our client. Before receiving the result and a few days after the arbitration hearing Mr. Dinardo wrote: "Once again masterful Job my man... U had a lot more to over come than I really realized .... I feel very confident that Judge will find Marriott at fault."
In all personal injury cases, the Plaintiff must prove 3 general things: (1) Liability; (2) Causation; (3) Damages. I will discuss each in the context of the above case.
Is the person you are making a claim against or suing legally responsible or "Liable" for any negligent, reckless, or purposeful act? An obvious example, if I am driving a car and run into the back of a car sitting at a stop light, I am legally responsible because I was negligent by not paying attention and not stopping.
In the Marriott case, we put forward negligence claims based on failure to inspect and make safe. Basically, they failed to provide chairs in good condition for their customers. Business have a duty not only to make their property safe, but also to inspect and find defects or problems that could threaten the safety of their customers. This is referred to as "premise liability" and more information is available here: Property & Business Owner Liability.
Our specific negligence allegations in the lawsuit were:
Defendants owed Plaintiff a reasonable degree of care in maintaining the said chair in a safe condition while under its control, inspect the chair to make sure it is safe, and to warn of any dangerous conditions created by Defendants or reasonably known to Defendants.
Defendants breached the duty it owed Plaintiff in the following respects:
A) Defendants allowed the use of an unsafe chair at the premises that created an unreasonably dangerous condition;
B) Defendants knew or should have known about the condition and knew that such condition was not reasonably safe;
C) In the exercise of ordinary care, Defendants should have known that persons such as the Plaintiff would not discover such condition or realize the risk of harm;
D) Defendants failed to use ordinary care to inspect or discover the dangerous condition and make safe; and
E) Defendants failed to make the dangerous condition reasonably safe or adequately warn of the condition or barricade it.
Causation is an element of a personal injury case that many of my clients don't think about directly and sometimes is a battle of the experts. A plaintiff must prove causation, that is, that your injuries are a "direct and proximate result" of the negligent act. Seems simple but in many cases, as in the Marriott case above, it is a big issue.
Defendants will often hire doctors to testify that the Plaintiff's injuries are true, but not from the incident. In back injury cases, they will often claim the back injury was already there, and the fall or crash did not cause it but only aggravated it a little bit. In the above case, the Marriott's lawyers hired a neurosurgeon to say just that, that Mr. Dinardo's back was already injured and the fall at the hotel had nothing to do with it.
These issue is when a good trial lawyer's skill is needed the most. In this case we were able to discredit the defense expert neurosurgeon at trial by pinning down his opinions, the basis for those opinions, and then hitting him with the facts that show he came up with his defense opinions first then rationalized how to justify it. We were capable of getting the defense expert to disagree with three other doctors on issues of the mechanism of the injury and what an MRI film showed. It came down to the defense expert saying an MRI showed one thing, while 3 other doctors, not hired experts but treating doctors, all said the MRI showed something very different.
But in most cases medical testimony from a doctor is necessary to prove causation. Unless it falls under the "sudden onset rule". See Personal Injury Trials: Proving Damages and Arguments to the Jury About Medical Testimony or Lack Thereof. But simple testimony that gets a doctor to the conclusion below, as in our case, meets that causation standard.
For more information on this legal element of a case see: Personal Injury: 3. Causation.
After proving liability and causation damages start to fall in place. Damages are the harms and losses the victim is entitled to be compensated for by the verdict. Damages include medical bills and lost wages (economic damages) as well as money to make up for past and future suffering.
I ask a jury to compensate my clients through their verdict by:
1. Fixing what can be fixed (money for bills);
2. Help what can be helped (pay for future care needed); and
3. Make up for what cannot be fixed or helped (physical and emotional pain).
In the chair case above we asked the Judge to decide on a verdict to include covering our client bills incurred and future bills (about 40,000-50,000) and then to make up for the past and future pain resulting from the injury, which the judge found to be $250,000.