In light of the plaintiff’s injuries, this seems like an outlier verdict. Our firm tries a lot of cases in Fulton County and our experience over the last several years is that Fulton County juries have gotten more and more conservative. Fulton County is no longer known as the plaintiff friendly venue that it once was. Basically, I find Fulton County jurors to be overall intelligent and reasonable in their consideration of cases.
So why then did an intelligent and reasonable jury award $4.3M to a woman who had suffered a fractured hip and had a $138,000 in medical expenses with no lost wages? Without knowing more about the case, it would be mere speculation on my part to guess at why the jury did what it did. However, in the Fulton County Daily Report’s article there were several factors that may have led to the large verdict and which are the kind of factors you should always consider in going to trial.
The plaintiff tripped and fell on a sloping concrete ramp leading from the parking lot to the front of the store. The difference in elevation between the slope and sidewalk was not marked until the day after the plaintiff’s fall, when the store manager painted the ramp yellow to make it more visible. I am sure that the defendant, Sports Authority, attempted to keep this information from the jury on the basis that marking the ramp was a “subsequent remedial measure.” I do not know the Judge’s ruling on the issue but clearly if this was allowed into evidence it would have indicated to the jury that Sports Authority was or should have been aware of a problem with the ramp.
More importantly, apparently the jury was allowed to hear that there were two prior falls on the same ramp one of which resulted in a lawsuit which was settled. After those falls, the store still did nothing to examine or the correct the ramp. The plaintiff presented testimony from the two prior accident victims as well as an expert who testified that the failure to paint the ramp was in violation of the Georgia Accessibility Code.
Most likely, these factors inflamed the jury and made them angry. An angry jury is a dangerous thing. Neither the plaintiff nor the defense in this case apparently appreciated the potential of the case inasmuch as the last settlement was $375,000 and the last offer was, according to the Daily Report, $5,000.
The jury did not ignore the potential negligence of the plaintiff. The actual verdict was $5M which was reduced because the plaintiff was deemed 14% responsible for the accident.
None of this verdict, apparently, was for punitive damages. It is clearly, however, punitive in nature. Juries generally do not like punitive damages and know that many times punitive damages are appealed. They obviously felt great sympathy for the plaintiff and anger at the Sports Authority for failure to correct a condition on which it was on notice.
In taking cases to trial we all should appreciate and try to put ourselves in the position of the juror and ask ourselves if the conduct of our clients will be perceived as reasonable. In cases where a client has made a mistake, it is sometimes better to acknowledge the mistake and address how the client has made sure that mistake will not happen again than to deny their mistake occurred. “Deny, deny, deny” is not always the best defense.
Please let me know if you would like a copy of the article about the case from the Daily Report or have any questions.