Posted on Aug 03, 2006
Judge to decide whether to cut $876,000 slip-and-fall award
Woman who tumbled in Wharton ShopRite could have jury verdict set aside
BY PEGGY WRIGHT
The lawyer for the ShopRite supermarket in Wharton will ask a Superior Court judge on Friday to set aside the jury verdict or reduce the $876,000 award that was given in June to a woman who suffered serious injuries when she slipped in 2002 in the health and beauty aids aisle.
A civil jury on June 16 awarded 50-year-old Joyce Reynolds of Wharton $876,000 for spinal and neck injuries that she suffered in a fall at the store on Sept. 15, 2002. On Friday, Superior Court Judge W. Hunt Dumont will hear motions filed by ShopRite's attorney, Robert Gold, to get the award reduced or the verdict tossed out.
Gold, in his court papers, contends that there is no evidence that ShopRite was negligent and that there is no clear evidence of what, if anything, Reynolds slipped on. Gold also contends that Reynolds had serious, pre-existing injuries to her neck and there was no expert testimony that she now is precluded from enjoying favorite activities such as dancing or shopping,
Reynolds had testified that the floor "was like ice" and she lost her footing. She said she tried to grab hold of a shelf for balance but fell to the floor, hitting her head.
At trial, Reynolds' attorney, Timothy Brunnock, argued that the woman slipped on a puddle of water. There was heavy rain on Sept. 15, 2002, and the store had a duty to make sure that the aisles would not be made slick by rainwater dripping off customers or by any other substance, Brunnock had argued.
"Because the problem of water coming into the store was predictable, pervasive and ongoing, it was reasonable for the jury to conclude that constructive notice (of a potential hazard) was omnipresent," Brunnock said in his court papers.
Based on testimony about Reynolds' expected life span, the award amounts to about $28,000 a year, a sum of money that is not unreasonable, Brunnock wrote. He noted that judges can't substitute their own judgment about the merits of a case and should not disturb a jury award unless clear mistakes occurred.
Jurors were not told, but Reynolds made national headlines last year when the man she believed she lawfully married in 2001 was charged with using a false name and birth date. William Michael Barber turned out to be a previously convicted con man who held himself out as a surgeon, war hero and ex-professional football player.