Selected Case Summaries – Premises Liability
Hansen v. Owners of Apartment Complex (2017)
Darlene Crook was employed as the manager of the apartment complex for about 7 years. It was often the scene of crimes. The security guard resigned because of a lack of resources and because her advice was ignored. There had been a triple shooting in the parking lot. Darlene performed all the duties of a manager, including evicting tenants who were disruptive. She and an exterminator knocked on the door of a long-time tenant, NW to treat his apartment for insect infestation. When he opened the door, he was armed with a knife and told Darlene he was going to kill her. He was charged with first degree harassment and served 147 days in jail. After NW was released, he was often spotted on the premises. He was not allowed to be on the grounds. He was known to carry a knife. Darlene became more and more uncomfortable and repeatedly asked for a security guard and a buzzer for her office door. Both requests were refused for economic reasons.
One day, NW entered the unlocked front door, went through the open door to Darlene’s office and stabbed her multiple times, killing her. He was sentenced to life in prison after a jury trial. We sued the owner of the complex who was not Darlene’s employer. Had the owner of the building also been the employer, she would have been unable to sue for negligence. The case settled for a confidential amount.
Frazier v. Sayona, Inc., d/b/a Comfort Inn (2001)
In June 1997, Virginia Frazier was traveling from Minneapolis to Texas. She stopped at a Comfort Inn located in Urbandale, Iowa. She checked into the motel in the early evening hours. The next morning she went outside to take her dog to the designated pet area. As she walked between the cars in the parking lot, she slipped and fell shattering her right wrist. She sustained $13,000 in medical expenses and was required to undergo surgery and several months of physical therapy.
The evidence concerning the parking lot was that water ran across the parking lot every time it rained and would sometimes remain there for 2 or 3 days. An expert testified that the water had to have been in the parking lot for a minimum of 1 week to 10 days prior to Virginia’s fall. The constant presence of the water in the parking lot created a slimy or slippery surface. It had rained heavily the night before she fell so that the green slimy surface in the parking lot was not readily visible to Virginia.
The case was tried in September 2000. The jury returned a verdict of $78,000 reduced by 20% fault for a total verdict of $62,400. The case settled on appeal for $59,500.
Jerry Bradley v. Menard, Inc. (1998)
Jerry was shopping at Menards in Urbandale, Iowa. He loaded his shopping cart with hardwood flooring, placing five packages of the floor planking so that it protruded out the front of his cart. He placed another five packages across the back of the cart over the child seat to stabilize the load. He later asked a Menards’ employee for assistance in locating an item. The employee picked up the cart by its handle and lifted the rear wheels off the ground. This caused the wooden planking and the cart to shift and tip over. Jerry saw the cart tipping over on him and reached out with his left arm to stop it from crushing him. He felt an immediate tearing in the bicep portion of his arm. He was treated by a local orthopedic doctor who diagnosed a partial biceps tear with a stretch injury to the musculocutaneous nerve or brachial plexus.
Jerry incurred about $5,400 in medicals. A vocational expert determined that Jerry had suffered a reduced earning capacity of 60-70% and projected his lost wages over his lifetime somewhere between $400,000 and $600,000. Menards hired a vocational expert who testified that Jerry suffered no loss of earning capacity. The case was settled at a mediation for $235,000.
Rita Beller v. Comfort Inn
Rita and Larry Beller checked into the Comfort Inn in Waterloo, Iowa, and later that evening went to the whirlpool/swimming pool area. Rita went back and forth between the whirlpool and swimming pool several times. She eventually decided to return to her room and gathered her belongings. The whirlpool area was elevated from the pool deck by a single step. As she stepped off the step she slipped on some water and fell backwards and struck the back of her head. There was no handrail on the single step from the whirlpool to the pool area.
Rita remained hospitalized for a couple of days after the fall complaining of dizziness. The dizziness eventually resolved, but the long term consequence of the injury was that Rita lost her ability to smell and taste.
Both sides retained experts to testify about the flooring in the pool area and necessity of handrail. Plaintiff’s experts would have testified that safety codes required a handrail and that the floor was not appropriately sloped for drainage. Comfort Inn’s expert would have testified that a handrail was not required and the tile floor satisfied all safety regulations.
Rita’s medical expenses were approximately $5,000. She did not sustain any lost wages. The case settled shortly before trial for $25,000.