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Essex County, Massachusetts

This was the second trial of an action brought by the 29-year-old Brinks messenger for injuries suffered in a slip and fall accident which occurred on the premises of the defendant bank.

The first trial had ended in a mistrial on plaintiff’s motion.

The plaintiff contended that he was injured in the course and scope of his employment while picking up currency from a bank vault on the premises of the defendant Shawmut National Corporation. The plaintiff contended that he slipped on water which had allegedly accumulated in front of a non-plumbed water cooler. The water cooler was allegedly situated on a linoleum- covered landing in close proximity to the stairway which the plaintiff had just ascended, according to the plaintiff’s claims.

The plaintiff asserted that the defendant premises owner was negligent in failing to provide a reasonably safe means of access and egress due to the failure to exercise due care in the placement of the water cooler. The plaintiff suffered injury this knee injury as a result of the subject fall.

The plaintiff contended that the defendant had created and maintained a dangerous condition on the premises by its improper and unsafe placement of the water cooler on the landing, in close proximity to the stairwell. The plaintiff additionally alleged that the defendant was further negligent in failing to properly maintain the cooler and in failing to take reasonable steps to minimize or eliminate the hazard posed by the placement of the water cooler.

At the time of the second trial, the plaintiff was incarcerated, serving out a prison term for several criminal convictions. The plaintiff was permitted to attend trial for only one day and was required to remain under armed guard during his appearance in court.

The plaintiff testified as to the presence of the water cooler and his observations of the setting where the accident occurred. p 7 3 The plaintiff described the flooring as having a smooth linoleum finish and stated that the cooler was situated behind a door on a landing at the top of a stairway. The plaintiff offered corroborating testimony from another Brinks employee who had also been on the defendant bank’s premises in the course of his employment in and around the same time period as the plaintiff.

Both this witness and the plaintiff offered similar descriptions as to the location of the cooler and the type of flooring on the landing and as to the fact that the door at the top of the stairs would strike the cooler when opened or closed. They also testified there was no drainage system on the cooler, which was equipped with a standard catch-basin that the defendant allowed to overflow on occasion.

The testimony of the plaintiff and co-employee was buttressed by a safety expert who maintained that the landing floor was negligently maintained and that in light of the presence of the cooler on the landing, mats should have been placed around the area of the cooler and/or the floor surface should have had a higher co-efficient of friction. This expert also testified that warnings should have been placed around the area of the cooler to alert passersby of the potential for water on the floor. In addition, the plaintiff contended that paper towels and a mop should have been placed in close proximity to the area to allow for immediate clean-up in the event of a water spill or leakage.

The defendant countered that the plaintiff’s fall was not caused by the unsafe placement of the water cooler, because at the time of the accident, there was no water cooler present on the landing. The defendant maintained that the landing was carpeted at the time of the plaintiff’s alleged fall and that there was no water cooler on the landing. Over plaintiff’s counsel’s objection, the defendant was permitted to offer testimony from several witnesses (Plaintiff’s counsel reports that these witnesses were not previously disclosed, thereby serving as the basis for his objection which was overruled). The defendant argued that the plaintiff fell, not because he slipped on water, but because his knee buckled or gave out as he reached the top of the stairs to the landing.

Over vigorous objection by plaintiff’s counsel, the defendant was permitted to offer evidence that prior to the accident, the plaintiff was involved in a work-related incident involving alleged careless misuse of his firearm while operating a Brinks armored truck. The defendant’s evidence indicated that the plaintiff shot a hole through the roof of the truck while en- route, as a result of which he was disciplined. The plaintiff countered that the incident was an inadvertent accident and that following the occurrence, he entered into a training program to learn the safe handling of a firearm. The plaintiff testified that at the time of the subject injury he was, in fact, in the process of working toward becoming certified to train others in the safe operation of hand guns.

The plaintiff contended that as a result of the fall, he sustained a torn medial meniscus and a dislocated patella. The plaintiff underwent three arthroscopic surgeries as a result of his injuries. The plaintiff presented medical specials of approximately $________. The plaintiff’s treating physician had p 7 3 passed away and his orthopedic surgeon, who actually performed the surgery, had moved out of state and was unavailable. This placed the plaintiff at a significant disadvantage as the available medical records failed to mention the fall and resulting knee injury and the doctors obviously could not complete the record with testimony causally relating the injury to the accident.

The plaintiff contended that he was unable to return to his prior position of security guard as a result of the injuries suffered and that he was forced to abandon his goal of someday becoming a police officer. The plaintiff alleged that he became severely depressed as a result of the permanent nature of the injuries sustained, as a consequence of which he began drinking and turned to crime.

The defendant disputed the plaintiff’s claim of a causal connection between the knee injury and alleged fall. The defendant pointed to the medical records from the emergency room where the plaintiff was treated following the accident, which indicated that the plaintiff had reported a prior knee injury.

The defense noted that the emergency room record contained no reference to the fact that the plaintiff had fallen on that date.

The plaintiff countered that he had advised the emergency room personnel of the fact that he had fallen and that they had simply failed to record his statement in this regard.

The jury found for the plaintiff and awarded $________. The case is presently on appeal.

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