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New York City's Top 3 Premises Liability Verdicts

Are you considering filing an NYC premises liability lawsuit?

Looking at past judgments can be an interesting way to think about your own potential case. And every year, the New York Law Journal releases a survey of the State's biggest personal injury settlements and verdicts.

Below, we've detailed 2013's top 3 lawsuits that involved "premises liability," when a property owner is negligent in their duties and someone else gets hurt. If you slipped and fell, this is a good place to start assessing the potential of your case.

But don't take these numbers too seriously. They can't tell how much your case is "worth." Not even an experienced personal injury attorney can do that. Lawsuits can hinge on the smallest detail, and the particular circumstances of your own situation are what matters.

New York's Largest Premises Liability Judgments

1. Woman Struck By Shopping Cart In Costco

Nudelman v. Costco Wholesale Corp., $9.9 million

On January 26, 2009, Rose Mendez Nudelman, an artist from Brooklyn, was shopping with her husband at the local Costco.

The wholesale store has two floors, with an escalator between them. In order for shoppers to roam freely, the escalators have no stairs. Instead, they are equipped with locking grooves. Shoppers can secure the wheels of their carts into these grooves, and travel upwards with the goods they plan to purchase.

Nudelman and her husband did precisely that, and stood roughly 15 feet behind their cart as the escalator ascended. But the cart began to roll backward, striking Mrs. Nudelman who toppled backwards on the moving surface. She sustained injuries to her arms and neck, which led to severe neurological damage and considerable pain.

At trial, Nudelman argued that her cart had never been secured in the grooves and that it was Costco's responsibility to ensure that carts were safely fastened. Her attorney also claimed that the incident could have been a result of an escalator malfunction, although he failed to specify the defect. Nevertheless, the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, awarding her a total of $9,903,825.

3. Leg Stuck In Subway Gap

Howell v. New York Transit Authority, $9 million

Tamara Howell, described in court documents as a "large woman," was riding the Lexington Avenue Express (#4) subway line through the Bronx. She was standing in front of the doors and, at a stop, tried to quickly exit the train to allow other passengers to exit. Unfortunately, Howell's leg became stuck in the narrow gap separating the train car from the platform.

Tamara Howell sued the New York Transit Authority, alleging that the gap was not sufficiently narrow. She argued that the subway's engineers should be held liable for her injuries.

In her initial trial, Howell was vindicated by the jury, and awarded a whopping $9 million for pain and suffering and medical expenses. But her case wouldn't make it through the appeals process.

The New York Transit Authority (NYTA) quickly contested the judgment. The entire case hinged on the precise distance of the gap. During the first trial, Howell claimed that the gap was approximately 12 inches wide, far wider than was necessary and potentially dangerous. But crucially, she had used the width of her own leg to arrive at this conclusion. In the end, it amounted only to a guess.

The defendant, on the other hand, had hard data. Multiple experts, including a subway inspector and engineer, testified to the gap's width: no more than 3.75 inches. This distance is well within the Transit Authority's own policy of six inches, and Howell's verdict was vacated.

3. Repairman Plummets Through Attic Floor

Epshteyn v. Branchinelli, $2.75 million

On June 26, 2007, Leonid Epshteyn, an HVAC repairman, got a routine call from homeowner Rosetta Branchinelli. After driving to Branchinelli's house in Manhasset, Epshteyn got to work. He climbed up to the house's attic and began repairs.

After finishing his job, Epshteyn abruptly fell through the attic's floor, dropping 20 feet to the story below. Epshteyn suffered numerous bone fractures: to his heel, shoulder, three ribs, and middle finger. He was hospitalized for 28 days, and then began a long course of physical therapy.

In his lawsuit, Epshteyn claimed that the attic's "floor" was actually a loose array of unsecured plywood beams. He alleged that Branchinelli had failed to warn him of the danger. To make matters worse, neither plaintiff nor defendant could find the attic's light switch, and Epshteyn was forced to stumble through the darkness with only his flashlight as aid. Branchinelli fired back, arguing that the light switch was in plain view and its placement had violated no building codes. Further, Epshteyn, who had successfully navigated the plywood to reach her air-conditioning unit, should have been able to exit in the same safe manner.

New York State's "comparative negligence" doctrine allows responsibility to be split between plaintiffs and defendants. Any jury verdict is split as well. The jury in this case found Epshteyn, the repairman, 52% liable and Branchinelli 48% liable. And even though Epshteyn was considered more than half responsible for his own injuries, he still secured a healthy verdict. The jury eventually awarded him $2.5 million.

Injured In A Slip & Fall Accident?

Were you hurt in an accident involving someone else's property? Do you think their negligence led to your injuries? As we've seen, New York's courts can be sympathetic to accident victims.

Contact the personal injury attorneys at Banville Law for a free consultation. We'll review your situation within 24 hours, and then outline the best road forward. There's no obligation, and no fee. An experienced slip and fall lawyer is only a call away.

Our New York City Personal Injury Lawyers Visit The Whitney Museum Of American Art and have a lot of information to share with you.

Laurence P. Banville
Date Published: January 15, 2015
Laurence P. Banville is the managing partner of Banville Law. As an experienced personal injury attorney, Mr. Banville helps clients recover compensation from those responsible for his clients' injuries. Our firm is located in New York City, serving clients from the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island.
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