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Premises liability - Slip and fall on stairs - Alleged inadequate coefficient of friction - Fractured femur.

New York County

In this contentious premises liability case, the plaintiff tenant contended that he slipped and fell while descending the stairwell of the 55-story building from the fifth floor. The plaintiff contended that the stairs in the stairwell were painted and that the coefficient of friction was so low as to constitute a hazard. The plaintiff indicated that he suffered a severe femur fracture as a result of the fall. The defendant contended case, a person living in an apartment building claimed that he fell and fractured his femur while descending the stairs. He brought action against the building owner who mounted an aggressive defense against the plaintiff’s allegations.

The evidence revealed that the male plaintiff, a 53-year old department store buyer, lived on the fifth floor of an upscale 55-floor building in New York City. He alleged that one of the two elevators that serviced his floor had been out of service for some time and that the other elevator had not arrived after five minutes on the day of the incident. The plaintiff testified that it was 5:00 p.m. and that he had a dinner engagement with friends four blocks away at 6:00 p.m. The plaintiff indicated that after "waiting and waiting" for the elevator, he decided to walk to the lobby via the stairwell whereupon he slipped on what he described as "slippery" stairs and fell to the platform, suffering a severe femur fracture.

At trial, the plaintiff presented an expert safety engineer who testified about a coefficient of friction test that can be used to determine the safety level of stairs. The safety engineer explained to the jury that a normal coefficient level is 1.0 and that a level of 0.5 or less is considered dangerous. The expert stated that he tested the paint-over-concrete stairs at the defendant’s premises and came up with a coefficient level of 0.4. The defense produced a safety engineer of their own who agreed that a normal coefficient of friction level is 1.0 and that a dangerous level is 0.5 or less. This expert stated, however, that he tested the subject stairs and arrived at a coefficient level of 0.7, which would not constitute a hazard.

Regarding damages, the plaintiff presented evidence that the fracture of his left femur required a plate, 17 screws, the implantation of cadaver bones and wiring. The plaintiff’s treating orthopedic surgeon described the injury to the plaintiff’s leg and opined that the plaintiff would need two additional surgeries in the future.

The defense honed in on the fact that the plaintiff had been recommended to undergo acupuncture for his leg pain and that he had stated at trial that he had not done so because his insurance did not cover these treatments. The defense argued to the jury that the plaintiff earned approximately $________ a year and if his pain was so great, why did he not pay for the recommended acupuncture himself. The defense also raised the question of whether the incident had actually occurred in the time frame described by the plaintiff, or whether he had been running late and was rushing down the stairs, causing his fall. The defendant produced an expert orthopedic surgeon.

The plaintiff presented 37 exhibits and a large amount of documentation related to his claims. The plaintiff made an early settlement demand of $________ and the defense countered with an offer of $________. There was no further discussion of possible settlement. At trial, the plaintiff asked for damages for past pain and suffering, future pain and suffering as well as the cost for the future surgeries at $________ to $________ each. He did not make a loss of earnings claim. The jury deliberated for 25 minutes before finding for the defendant.

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