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Hunterdon County, NJ

This action involved a then 55-year-old plaintiff, who had gone to the defendant inn because of a surprise wedding shower that was being held for her daughter. The area was directly next to an open stairwell. The plaintiff contended that a lip floor next to the stairwell created a tripping hazard, and that as she turned to greet her daughter who was entering the room, she tripped over the lip and fell down the flight of stairs. The construction pre-dated the code and the building code did not apply. The plaintiff maintained that she suffered a severe closed head injury and TBI that left her with severe and permanent balance difficulties that required her to use a four-pronged cane to walk, frequent headaches, neuropsychological deficits involving memory and concentration and a fracture to the right radius that required surgery.

The plaintiff, who had worked as a nurse for some 36 years, and who had been the charge nurse at an emergency room for a number of years, contended that she is precluded from working. The plaintiff further contended that she has become very emotionally depressed. The plaintiff would have related that among the reasons that the defendant’s inn was chosen to host the bridal shower was that it is known for and, in fact, advertises its special “scenic event spaces”. The plaintiff and her friend were permitted to take photographs of the bride arriving from a window overlooking the parking lot. The plaintiff maintained that on most occasions, a podium is left at the top of the stairs and that when present, the risk of anyone falling down the staircase is virtually eliminated. The podium was not present at the time.

The plaintiff indicated that when she saw her daughter arrive in the parking lot, she and her friend both turned to go to the main entrance when her foot got caught on the lip at the top of the stairwell, causing her to lose her balance and fall down the stairwell. Her shoe remained at the top of the stairs. Her body broke the hand railing and she was found unconscious at the bottom of the stairwell. The plaintiff’s engineer would have contended that the area created a very significant hazard and that if not blocked by the podium or hutch, a gate should have been used. The plaintiff’s expert also maintained that warning signs should have been posted.

The defendant would have contended that the cause of the incident was the negligent failure of the plaintiff to observe the open and obvious stairwell that was directly next to her. The plaintiff’s expert contended that did not provide adequate visual cues to warn guests of the stairway. The expert maintained that the carpet pattern on the banquet floor and stairway treads blended together, camouflaging the presence of the stairway. The expert also maintained that the left handrail should did not start at the top of the stairs, but a slight distance below. The expert contended that this factor further reduced the visual cues, the risk of this incident occurring would have been reduced.

The plaintiff was rendered unconscious for a brief period. The plaintiff maintained that closed head trauma left her with a TBI manifesting in severe vertigo and balance difficulties and that the plaintiff will permanently require a four-pronged cane to walk. The plaintiff also maintained that she was left with very significant cognitive deficits involving memory and concentration.

The plaintiff had been a nurse for some 36 years and a charge nurse in an emergency room for a number of years. The plaintiff maintained that because of the injuries, she will permanently be unable to work. The plaintiff would have contended that the future income loss exceeded $________. The plaintiff also contended that she has been very restricted in day to day activities around the home and has been left with a very significant emotional depression that is permanent in nature.The case was submitted to arbitration. The arbitration resulted in a finding of 70% negligence on the part of the defendant and 30% comparative negligence and a gross arbitration award of $________, which included medical liens and lost wages. The case settled prior to trial for $________.

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