Lori Miller Wins Over Philadelphia Jury for Obtaining Defense Verdict in Hospital Case

On Labor Day, plaintiff and her husband were on their way to visit the plaintiff’s father who was being treated for cancer at the hospital. Plaintiff and her husband entered the main lobby of the building and as plaintiff walked into the elevator she stepped onto a wet substance which resulted in her body sliding into the back wall of the elevator and onto the ground. Plaintiff testified that while she was lying on the elevator floor she observed a clear liquid covering a large area of the floor. Plaintiff was unable to see the liquid before she fell because it was clear and it blended in with the color of the floor. Plaintiff’s husband immediately reported the accident to the security officer in the lobby of the building and plaintiff was transported to the emergency department for evaluation and treatment. Plaintiffs’ counsel argued that the hospital staff failed to make adequate inspections of the elevators and should have discovered the condition on the floor of such a highly traveled elevator. As a result of the fall, plaintiff was diagnosed with severe spinal and knee injuries which she testified were still causing significant pain and limitations 3 1/2 years after the initial injury. Plaintiff also claimed that her marriage was affected by her injuries and she and her husband had separated after the accident. Plaintiffs’ expert opined that plaintiffs’ injuries were permanent and would require future treatment. Defendant’s orthopedic surgeon conceded that plaintiff was injured in the fall, but believed that plaintiff had since recovered and any ongoing problems were related to her pre-existing degenerative condition.

Ms. Miller defended the case arguing that plaintiff had failed to prove that the hospital had reasonable notice of the spill. The liquid plaintiff described had no footprints or track marks to indicate it had been there for any length of time. A hospital representative testified that the lobby of the building was a highly traveled area, and at that time of the day, there was a specific environmental services employee assigned to inspect and clean the lobby and the elevators. Furthermore, there was no evidence to indicate the water had not been spilled 20 seconds before plaintiff entered the elevator. Plaintiff also admitted on cross-examination that she had not been paying attention to the elevator floor because she was rushing to see her sick father.

As to damages, plaintiff’s credibility was diminished when she denied having any prior back injuries or personal injury claims. The defense was able to prove that plaintiff had been involved in at least one prior accident where she injured her back and had also treated with her primary care physician many years later for a sporadic complaint of pain. Despite her severe ongoing complaints of pain following the fall at the hospital, plaintiff admitted that in the 3 1/2 years since the accident she had not once mentioned her injuries or limitations to her primary care doctor. The credibility of the plaintiff’s treating physician was at issue as well, as he diagnosed and treated the plaintiff for an injury in the opposite knee that she testified was injured in the fall.

The Philadelphia jury deliberated for approximately 2 hours and returned a verdict in favor of the hospital on liability.