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Gas station denied neglect of fire-suppression system

Type:

Verdict-Defendant

State:

New York

Venue:

Richmond County

Court:

Richmond Supreme

Injury Type(s):

eye hip-labrum; tear (hip) back-bulging disc; lumbar back-bulging disc; thoracic knee-meniscus; tear other-tendon; severed/torn surgeries/treatment-arthroscopy surgeries/treatment-knee surgery(meniscectomy) surgeries/treatment-knee surgery(knee replacement)

Case Type:

Slips, Trips & Falls - Slips, Trips & Falls, Slip and FallPremises Liability - Negligent Repair and/or Maintenance

Case Name:

Daniel Rakauskas and Annette Rakauskas v. Arden Shell Corp.

Date:

June 21, 2013

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Daniel Rakauskas (Male, 57 Years), 

Annette Rakauskas (Female, 50 Years)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Bernard G. Chambers; Garden City, NY, trial counsel, Gerard DeCapua, Rockville Centre, NY; Garden City, NY, for Daniel Rakauskas, Annette Rakauskas

Plaintiff Expert(s):

Daryl Smith P.E.; Mechanical; Cedar Knolls, NJ called by: Daniel Rakauskas, Annette Rakauskas

Defendant(s):

Arden Shell Corp., 

Fire Guard of Long Island Inc.

Defense Attorney(s):

Lisa R. Kramer; Faust Goetz Schenker & Blee LLP; New York, NY, for Arden Shell Corp., Fire Guard of Long Island Inc. ■ Thomas B. Ferris; Law Office of James R. Pieret & Associates; Garden City, NY, for Arden Shell Corp., Fire Guard of Long Island Inc.

Defendent Expert(s):

James Valentine Fire Suppression Systems; Lindenwold, NJ for Arden Shell Corp., Fire Guard of Long Island Inc.

Insurer(s):

Scottsdale Insurance Co.

Facts:

On July 3, 2006, plaintiff Annette Rakauskas, a woman in her early 50s, and her husband, plaintiff Daniel Rakauskas, 57, a retiree, visited a gasoline station that was located at 1769 Arthur Kill Road, in the Arden Heights section of Richmond County. While the couple was standing alongside a gasoline pump, the premises' fire-suppression system emitted a dry suppression agent, despite the absence of a fire. The Rakauskases fled when the substance began to descend upon them. Mr. Rakauskas slipped and fell, and he claimed that he sustained injuries of his back, a hip and his knees. Ms. Rakauskas claimed that the fire-suppression agent irritated her eyes. The Rakauskases sued the gasoline station's operator, Arden Shell Corp., and the fire-suppression system's installer and maintainer, Fire Guard of Long Island Inc. They alleged that the defendants were negligent in their maintenance of the fire-suppression system. The plaintiffs' expert engineer opined that a properly maintained fire-suppression system would not have discharged a suppression agent in the absence of a fire. Plaintiffs' counsel noted that the system's control box was removed after the accident and that the defendants did not produce it. He moved for a charge of spoliation, but the motion was denied. Plaintiffs' counsel also attempted to invoke the doctrine of res ipsa loquitur. In response, the defense's fire-suppression expert opined that the system's malfunction may not have been a product of inadequate maintenance. The expert suggested that the malfunction could have been a result of a sudden spike of the outdoor temperature or the system's heat sensor having been affected by a malfunctioning electrical wire. Judge Alan Marin declined to charge res ipsa loquitur.

Injury:

The trial was bifurcated. Damages were not before the court. Ms. Rakauskas claimed that the fire-suppression agent irritated her eyes. She underwent minor treatment at a nearby hospital, and the condition subsequently resolved. She sought recovery of damages for past pain and suffering. Mr. Rakauskas claimed that he sustained a tear of each knee's meniscus, a tear of his left hip's labrum, a tear of the same hip's abductor tendon, and trauma that produced bulges of his T11-12, T12-L1, L1-2, L2-3, L3-4, L4-5 and L5-S1 intervertebral discs. In December 2006, Rakauskas underwent arthroscopic surgery that addressed his right knee. The procedure included a meniscectomy, which involved excision of a portion of a damaged meniscus. In February 2007, he underwent similar surgery that addressed his left knee. In May 2008, he underwent arthroscopic surgery that addressed his left hip. The procedure included a bursectomy, which involved the removal of an inflamed bursa sac. In August 2010, he underwent arthroscopic surgery that addressed his left hip's damaged labrum. In February 2013, he underwent replacement of his knees. Rakauskas claimed that he suffers residual pain and limitations. He sought recovery of damages for past and future pain and suffering. Defense counsel claimed that Mr. Rakauskas' injuries predated the accident. They noted that his retirement was a result of disabilities related to his back and his right knee, and they claimed that he had previously reported painful conditions of his left hip and his left knee.

Result:

The jury rendered a defense verdict.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Alan C. Marin

Demand:

$1,000,000 (total, by both plaintiffs, from both defendants)

Offer:

$150,000 (total, for both plaintiffs, by both defendants)

Trial Length:

4  days

Trial Deliberations:

4.5  hours

Jury Vote:

6-0 (Arden Shell); 5-1 (Fire Guard of Long Island)

Jury Composition:

3 male/ 3 female

Post Trial:

Plaintiffs' counsel has expressed an intention to file an appeal.

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on court documents, information that was provided by plaintiffs' counsel and information that was provided by defense counsel.