Plaintiff says bagging area of store had hazardous mat, but time-lapse cameras couldn’t show events
A Clayton County State Court jury awarded $1.3 million to a woman who lost sight in her left eye after she fell into the bagging station of a grocery store.
Ellen Myers contended she tripped on a wrinkle in a floor mat at the entrance to Food Depot in Rex. The store, owned by All American Quality Foods Inc., disputed whether the mat caused her fall, according to outlines from both sides in the consolidated pretrial order.
“The case came down to whether or not the jury actually believed she tripped over the floor mat,” said plaintiff’s lawyer Shone Broadnax of Broadnax & Martin in Morrow. “She just got up there and told the truth. Her story never changed from day one.”
The racially diverse jury was evenly split between genders, Broadnax said. The 12 included a banker, a mechanic, a cook and a Wal-Mart produce manager. The plaintiff had been laid off her job as a convenience store manager and had taught herself to do home improvement work.
“She’s a salt-of-the-earth type person,” Broadnax said. “We had a before and after witness, one of her neighbors, who testified that this was a lady who literally put a roof on her own house. She nailed shingles, cleaned gutters, put in new bathtubs, sinks, kitchen counters.”
Clayton County State Court Judge Aaron Mason entered the $1.3 million judgment April 2, following a weeklong trial that ended March 29.
Russell Waldon defended the grocery, along with Hilliard Castilla and John Alday, all of Waldon Adelman Castilla Hiestand & Prout. The defense outline in the pretrial order said the company “denies any negligence.”
Waldon was unavailable to speak about the case.
Broadnax said the store is covered under an Argo Insurance Co. policy with $1 million in liability limits and $5 million in excess coverage.
The accident happened Sept. 17, 2010, when Myers, then 49, entered the store on Ga. 42 in Rex. She tripped, stumbled forward and fell into the metal frame of the grocery bagging carousel, striking her face, according to the plaintiff’s summary in the pretrial order.
Broadnax said a Good Samaritan knelt beside Myers on the floor to help her, while the store manager ignored her.
“They never shut down the checkout. People were walking over her,” he said.
Myers’ then 80-year-old mother, who had been waiting in the car when Myers fell, drove her daughter to the nearest hospital, Henry County Medical Center, where it was determined she needed surgery beyond the hospital’s capability. She was transferred by ambulance to Grady Memorial Hospital, where she underwent surgery for multiple fractures in the bones of her left eye socket, an entrapped muscle and a gash in the white part of her eye, Broadnax said. Her claim documented $56,298 in medical bills.
Despite the emergency medical procedures, Myers lost vision in her left eye.
She also faced a challenge in proving the case. Not only was it her word against the store’s that she tripped on the mat, but the security camera video the store provided did not show the mat move, Broadnax said. He brought in an expert who explained time-lapse video photography and testified that this type of video would miss such a movement. George Pearl of Atlanta Legal Photo Services Inc. re-enacted the fall with the same type of time-lapse video the store used, producing a video that also did not show him tripping. He testified that a television quality video would product 30 frames per second but that the store’s time lapse video only recorded one frame per second.
Another challenge for the plaintiff was showing the jury the effect of the loss of sight in only one eye.
Broadnax said he employed visual aids and simulations to show what it would be like merging onto the traffic of I-285 without vision on the left side.
“She has to literally turn her head all the way to the left,” Broadnax said. “When you do that, you’re not looking at the car in front of you.”
During the plaintiff’s direct testimony, Broadnax questioned her about frightening near-misses she’s had while driving since the accident, caused by her limited vision. He told the jury that she is not likely to be able to continue driving until she’s 80 like her mother, who rushed to the hospital after the fall.
Another important point Broadnax made to the jury he said came from a suggestion his wife made. He questioned Myers about how this injury felt to her as a woman. She said her friends told her she looked fine, that they couldn’t tell.
“But you can tell,” Broadnax said. “Her eye is sunken.” Myers testified about how self-conscious the injury made her feel. Added Broadnax, “She was just a believable client.”
The case is Myers v. All American Quality Foods, No. 2010CV07398E.
“She’s a salt-of-the-earth type person. We had a before and after witness, one of her neighbors, who testified that this was a lady who literally put a roof on her own house.
—Shone Broadnax, plaintiff’s attorney
Reprinted with permission from the 4/15/13 edition of the DAILY REPORT © 2013 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All rights reserved. Further duplication without permission is prohibited. Contact: 877-257-3382 firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.almreprints.com. # 451-10-13-03 DAILY REPORT APRIL 15, 2013
Original story by: Katheryn Hayes Tucker from Daily Report Online