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Galveston County District Court, 122nd
back-fracture (fracture, L2), back (fracture, L2); back-fracture (fracture, L2), vertebra (fracture, L2); back-herniated disc (herniated disc at L3-4), lumbar (herniated disc at L3-4); back-herniated disc (herniated disc at L5-S1), lumbar (herniated disc at L5-S1); chest-fracture, rib; other-physical therapy; other-epidural injections; other-compression fracture; face/nose-facial laceration; face/nose-scar and/or disfigurement, face; surgeries/treatment-discectomy; surgeries/treatment-laminectomy (laminectomy, lumbar)
Workplace - Workplace Safety; Slips, Trips & Falls - Fall from Height; Premises Liability - Dangerous Condition; Worker/Workplace Negligence - Negligent Training; Premises Liability - Negligent Repair and/or Maintenance
Manuel Mejia v. Jason A. Balasch, Heidi-Lynne Balasch, Sand 'N Sea Properties LLC and Brian Dean Stanford, d/b/a Gulf Coast A/C, Heat & Electric, No. 16-CV-0325
August 24, 2017
Manuel Mejia (Male, 35 Years)
Reginald E. McKamie; Law Offices of Reginald E. McKamie, Sr., P.C; Houston, TX, for Manuel Mejia ■ Deborah E. Bryant; Law Office of Deborah E. Bryant; Houston, TX, for Manuel Mejia
Navin Subramanian; M.D.; Orthopedic Surgery; Houston, TX called by: Reginald E. McKamie, Deborah E. Bryant ■ Arthur Washington; Workplace Safety; Houston, TX called by: Reginald E. McKamie, Deborah E. Bryant ■ Wallace Stanfill; M.Ed., LPC; Vocational Rehabilitation; Houston, TX called by: Reginald E. McKamie, Deborah E. Bryant
Jason A. Balasch,
Brian Dean Stanford,
Sand 'N Sea Properties LLC
Albert Hollan; Kilpatrick & Deas; Houston, TX, for Jason A. Balasch, Heidi-Lynne Balasch, Sand 'N Sea Properties LLC ■ Not represented; for Brian Dean Stanford
Liberty Mutual Insurance Co. for Heidi-Lynne Balasch, Jason Balasch, and Sand 'N Sea Properties
On April 15, 2014, plaintiff Manuel Mejia, 35, an air conditioning repairman's assistant, was removing an air conditioning unit from an elevated service platform at a beach house in Galveston. Jason A. Balasch and Heidi-Lynne Balasche were absentee owners living in Canada, and Sand 'N Sea Properties LLC was the property manager. Mejia's employer was Brian Dean Stanford, operating as Gulf Coast A/C, Heat & Electric. The platform was on a level with the second floor and had a wooden railing, and Mejia claimed that the railing broke when he brushed against it. Mejia and the air conditioning unit fell to the ground, and Mejia sustained a back injury. Stanford was a non-subscriber to workers' compensation. Mejia sued the Balasches and Sand 'N Sea on a theory of premises liability and sued Stanford for negligent training and failing to provide a safe workplace. Stanford did not answer or appear, and the court entered a default judgment against him on liability at trial. Mejia claimed that the wooden railing, along with many other parts of the house, had rotted and that Balasches and Sand 'N Sea had failed to maintain it properly. The Balasches had bought the property in about 2007 and never inspected the railing. Also, an inspection report from 2007 mentioned water damage to the house, and the plaintiff's safety expert opined that the defendants therefore should have been aware that the railing around the air-conditioning unit might rot. The expert also testified that inspecting the railing was the responsibility of the property owners and manager, not Mejia. Plaintiff's counsel argued that the property owners and manager were at least 90 percent responsible for the incident and that Mejia was no more than 10 percent responsible. The Balasches and Sand 'N Sea denied negligence. The defense maintained that a co-worker testified that Mejia said he was trying to throw the air conditioner off the platform to the ground because it needed to be replaced. The unit became caught on Mejia's clothing and pulled him through the railing. Mejia denied such a conversation with a co-worker. He also denied throwing the unit off the platform, which everyone agreed would have been an unsafe practice. The defense argued that Mejia should have requested a safety harness or other fall protection; that his employer should have provided such equipment; that his employer had thrown broken air conditioning units off of platforms in the past, a dangerous practice; and that it was Mejia's responsibility to check the railings himself. The defense introduced evidence of two convictions of Mejia. One was for falsifying a government document and one, in 2016 or 2017, was for theft.
Mejia was taken by ambulance to the emergency room. He sustained an L2 compression fracture; herniated discs at L3-4 and L5-S1; right rib fractures; and a laceration to left side of the forehead. Part of the railing fell, too, and he said he landed on it. He said the air conditioning unit would have landed on him and crushed him had he not been able to shift it away from him in midair. He was hospitalized overnight, after which he underwent a course of physical therapy and epidural steroid injections. The pain persisted, and he underwent a right-side L3-4 hemi-laminectomy and discectomy. He followed up a few times with the orthopedic surgeon, and his last visit was a couple of years before trial. The doctor released Mejia from care at that time and said he had fully recovered. He was left with a small scar on his forehead. He also walks with a cane and wears a back brace. He never returned to work. At the time of the incident, he was making $11 an hour, or about $22,880 a year. However, his vocational expert said that average entry level HVAC tech positions pay $30,682, with experienced techs making $45,776. The expert therefore projected an annual future loss of earnings in this range, with a total future income loss of $409,000. Mejia sought $171,400.48 for past medical bills. He also sought future medical expenses, past and future lost earning capacity, past and future physical pain and mental anguish; past and future physical impairment; and past and future disfigurement. The defense argued that he could work despite his injuries, even if he could not do the same work as before.
The jury found negligence and comparative responsibility of 75 percent on Mejia and 25 percent on Stanford. It found that Mejia's damages were $201,000, but because it found him more than 50 percent at fault, he took nothing. The breakdown of the damages was $122,000 for past medical expenses; $25,000 for past physical pain and mental anguish; $10,000 for past physical impairment; and $44,000 for past lost earning capacity.
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's and defense counsel.