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Theatergoer Broke Leg In Fall Down Stairs, Blamed Manager


Plaintiff’s Attorney: Brian R. Gunn, Cerussi & Gunn, P.C., Garden City, NY
Defense Attorneys: Kenneth Brown, Law Offices of James J. Toomey, New York, NY and Peter J. Verdirame, Chesney & Murphy, LLP, Baldwin, NY

FACTS AND ALLEGATIONS On August 18, 2009, plaintiff, J.J. a retiree in his late 70s, visited N.Y.C.C., which is located in Manhattan. J.J. intended to attend a performance that was being staged in the building’s lower level. He was not physically able to descend the available stairway, and the building’s elevators were temporarily unable to travel to the lower level. However, the theater’s manager suggested that J.J. could use a stair-side lift that transports wheelchair-bound passengers. Jones consented. He was assisted into a wheelchair, and the theater’s manager wheeled J.J. to the edge of the stairway, where the lift was located. The wheelchair’s handles slipped from the manager’s grip while the chair was being loaded onto the lift, and the wheelchair fell down the stairway. J.J. sustained an injury to his leg.

J.J. sued the theater’s operator, N.Y.C.C., Inc. J.J. alleged that the theater’s manager was negligent in his handling of the wheelchair and the lift.

J.J.’s expert engineer concluded that the lift was in good working condition and that the accident must have been a product of operator error.

Defense counsel noted that the lift’s track contained a plastic wheel on which the lift’s platform moved. He contended that the wheel was cracked and that the crack destabilized the device and caused the accident. He claimed that the device was defective and/or that it had been improperly serviced.

Defense counsel contended that the lift was manufactured by Carlstadt, New Jersey based Handi-Lift Inc., which had sold and serviced some such devices to N.Y.C.C. The company denied having manufactured the subject lift. It also contended that the accident was a result of the lift being installed on a stairway that was too severely sloped.

INJURIES/DAMAGES fracture, femur; fracture, leg; internal fixation; open reduction.

J.J. sustained a fracture of his right leg’s femur. The fracture was addressed via open reduction and internal fixation. After four days had passed, J.J. suffered a pulmonary embolism. He endured a 45 day-long hospitalization. He was home bound for the remainder of his life, and he required constant professional assistance. J.J., 79, died March 9, 2011 – after the resolution of his suit. His death was not related to the fracture of his right femur.

RESULT During the 17 months that preceded the accident, J.J. received a total of $150,000 in advances from N.Y.C.C.’s insurer, to pay for his residential care. The matter was ultimately resolved via a pretrial settlement, in which N.Y.C.C.’s insurer agreed to pay an additional $750,000. Although Handi-Lift was not impleaded to the suit, its insurer agreed to contribute $15,000. Thus J.J.’s recovery totaled $915,000.