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Defense Verdict in Bathroom Ceiling Collapse Case

Jan 1, 2013 - Recent Verdicts by Jason G. Wehrle

The team of Kevin Davis and Alan Bulnes secured a defense verdict for Mintzer Sarowitz Zeris Ledva & Meyers LLP in Pinellas County, Florida. In this premises liability case the plaintiff, a mother in her 30s, claimed she was in the shower of her rented apartment when a portion of the bathroom ceiling collapsed on her. We represented the apartment owners and the management company in the resulting lawsuit.

The plaintiff claimed that our clients failed to maintain the apartment in a safe and reasonable manner. The trial began with voir dire by Alan Bulnes in which he connected with every member of the prospective jury panel. An attorney’s connection, personability, and likeability when conducting jury selection is often overlooked. However in this trial, Mr. Bulnes’ impassioned voir dire put us ahead from the get go.

Our main argument was that the plaintiff’s ceiling had been recently repaired with no indication it would collapse. The plaintiff testified that the day before her bathroom ceiling collapsed, water had been leaking from the shower of the unit above. The plaintiff alleged our clients failed to repair the leak in her ceiling, resulting in the subsequent collapse, and introduced photographs showing ceiling debris on the bathroom floor.

However, the defendants’ maintenance worker testified he repaired the water leak and drained the water from the ceiling over the plaintiff’s bathroom. The plaintiff’s narrative of the events that lead to the ceiling collapse were scrutinized and questioned by the members of the jury. The jury asked the plaintiff, and her expert witness engineer, multiple questions about the ceiling. One member of the jury even asked if it was possible the plaintiff pulled the ceiling down herself. Once we heard this question, we knew our chances of a defense verdict were increasing.

After completion of the plaintiff’s case-in-chief, the defense moved for a directed verdict regarding the plaintiff’s wage claims. The court agreed with Mr. Davis’ argument that the plaintiff did not put forth the proper evidence to submit her wage claims to the jury. The court granted the defendant’s Motion for Directed Verdict, and the issue was removed from the verdict form.

Prior Injuries Confirmed By Radiologist

Regarding the plaintiff’s medical treatment in this case, she was transported to the emergency room after the incident and was diagnosed with cervical sprain and strain. Months later, she was diagnosed with a cervical disc herniation which, she claimed, was caused by the incident. She underwent a series of cervical injections and surgery was recommended for the future. To combat this testimony, we argued the plaintiff had a history of prior cervical complaints, and her neck condition was not caused by the subject incident.

In support of our theory, we argued that an MRI of the plaintiff’s cervical spine from 2009 revealed her herniated disc pre-dated this incident. This argument forced the plaintiff to change her theory of the case from causation to exacerbation of a previous injury, which was critical for the defense.

Another big win for the defense came when our expert radiologist testified in front of the jury regarding the plaintiff’s injuries. The radiologist used this opportunity as a teaching moment to break down the plaintiff’s injuries, and explain how the plaintiff’s MRIs showed no change in her disc herniation from 2009 to 2013. The jury listened, and returned a verdict for the defense.