In February of this year, Fordham University student, Kei Usami, fell from his upper bunk bed in the middle of the night and was left paralyzed due to a spine fracture. He is now suing the university for not installing guard rails on their beds.
Usami, 20, was a sophomore on the university tennis team when the accident happened. He returned from a night of drinking, only to fall, head first, in his sleep. Fordham's student EMS team transported him to St. Barnabas Hospital, but they did not cushion him with a neck brace, thereby sealing his fate, according to published news reports.
Although the school has sued two bed suppliers since the accident, they claim their neglect in not providing guardrails is not to blame for the accident. They blame Usami for drinking "large amounts of alcohol."
Usami spent four months in the hospital and was saddled with a $1.1 million medical bill. He is now confined to a wheelchair. Regaining movement in his left hand was a major victory for him after much physical therapy. This fall, he returned to Fordham to study business and hopes to be able to walk on stage to receive his diploma by 2013.
Commentary: Let's see if I understand this correctly. College student gets drunk. College student climbs up onto the upper level of his bunk bed after a night of drinking. College student falls out of bed during the night causing him to become paralyzed. College student sues school claiming they should have bed rails on the bunk beds.
School sues manufacturer of bunk beds. School asserts a defense against college student claiming if he had not been drinking, this would not have happened.
The fact that the school sued the manufacturer does not, in and of itself, mean that the school is automatically responsible for the accident. From the facts presented, it appears as if each party bears responsibility for the significant injury this student suffered. I would be very interested to know whether the school had notice of other students who had fallen out of the upper bunk bed in cases where students had been drinking and maybe in cases where students were not drinking.
Should bed rails be installed in an upper bunk bed? In order to know that answer, research would need to be done on any State regulations requiring them. This situation does not appear to be similar to young children falling out of an upper bunk bed. Instead, you have young adults who should be able to navigate their way up and down the upper bunk bed. Also, even if we assume bed rails had been installed, a drunk young man may simply have climbed over it in his druken stupor to go to the bathroom and suffered the same fate.
Having said that, I still believe that the school bears responsibility especially if other incidents like these have happened in the past. The fact that the college has sued the manufacturer of the bunk bed clearly suggests that they're trying to shift the blame onto the manufacturer for making a defective product.
Gerry practices law exclusively in the State of New York. Within New York he practices primarily in the following counties: New York, Brooklyn, Queens, Bronx, Staten Island, Nassau and Suffolk. Technically, Brooklyn is known as "Kings County," and Manhattan and New York City are known as "New York County." Staten Island is known as "Richmond County." These counties make up the New York metropolitan area.