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New England Verdicts

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Sidewalk not properly treated for snow, ice, plaintiff argued

Type:

Verdict-Defendant

State:

Massachusetts

Venue:

Suffolk County

Court:

Suffolk County, Superior Court

Injury Type(s):

leg-limp; back-lower back; back-degenerative disc condition, exacerbation of; neck-degenerative disc condition, exacerbation of; ankle; ankle-fracture (trimalleolar fracture); other-osteoarthritis; other-physical therapy; other-decreased range of motion; neurological-radiculopathy; neurological-radicular pain / radiculitis; surgeries/treatment-open reduction; surgeries/treatment-internal fixation

Case Type:

Premises Liability - Sidewalk, Snow and Ice; Slips, Trips & Falls - Slip and Fall; Premises Liability - Negligent Repair and/or Maintenance

Case Name:

Debra Tanen v. C & W Facility Services Inc., Equity Office Management, LLC, Equity Office Properties, Inc., Equity Office Properties, LLC, Equity Office Properties Management Corp., Ma-Center, LLC, UGL Services Unicco Operations, Inc. and Unicco Service Company, No. 1184CV02755

Date:

May 26, 2016

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Debra Taren (Female, 50s)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Charles R. Capace; Zimble & Brettler, LLP; Boston, MA, for Debra Taren ■ Phyllis Schacht; Sharon, MA, for Debra Taren

Plaintiff Expert(s):

John Allin; Weather; Erie, PA called by: Charles R. Capace, Phyllis Schacht ■ Robert Copeland; Meteorology/Climatology; Arlington, MA called by: Charles R. Capace, Phyllis Schacht ■ Srdjan Nedeljkovic; M.D.; Pain Management; Boston, MA called by: Charles R. Capace, Phyllis Schacht

Defendant(s):

Ma-Center LLC, 

Unicco Service Co., 

C & W Facility Services Inc., 

Equity Office Management LLC, 

Equity Office Properties LLC, 

Equity Office Properties Inc., 

UGL Services Unicco Operations Inc., 

Equity Office Properties Management Corp.

Defense Attorney(s):

Jeffrey C. McLucas; Manion Gaynor & Manning LLP; Boston, MA, for Ma-Center LLC, Unicco Service Co., C & W Facility Services Inc., Equity Office Management LLC, Equity Office Properties LLC, Equity Office Properties Inc., UGL Services Unicco Operations Inc., Equity Office Properties Management Corp.

Facts:

On Feb. 1, 2011, plaintiff Debra Tanen, 59, a commercial marketing consultant, was walking on a sidewalk on Somerset Street in Boston, adjacent to Center Plaza, when she slipped and fell. She claimed injuries to her lower back and left ankle as a result of the incident. Tanen sued property owner MA-Center, LLC; property management company Equity Office Management, LLC and related entities Equity Office Properties, Inc., Equity Office Properties, LLC and Equity Office Properties Management Corp; and the building's snow removal contractor C & W Facility Services Inc. Janitorial services company Unicco Service Company was also sued, but was dismissed from the case. Tanen claimed she slipped and fell on black ice on the downward sloping sidewalk. She claimed the sidewalk was not properly monitored for, treated and/or cleared of snow and ice. She claimed there was untimely and insufficient use of ice-melting product used on the location where she fell. The plaintiff's snow management consultant testified that the defendants failed to take adequate steps to anticipate and adequately treat the development of black ice. The plaintiff's meteorology expert testified that the weather at the time of the accident was such that black ice could develop on the sidewalk. At a 2014 evidentiary hearing involving surveyors and a title examiner, the court determined that the sidewalk where the Tanen fell was private property that was part of the Center Plaza property. The defense contended that the property had been properly monitored and inspected, and that snow removal and ice treatment was ongoing at the time of the accident. The defense argued that post-accident photographs showed it was snowing at the time of the accident and there was little to no ice at the location of Tanen's fall.

Injury:

Tanen was placed in an ambulance and transported to Massachusetts General Hospital, where she was diagnosed with a trimalleolar fracture of the left ankle. She underwent open reduction and internal fixation to repair the fracture. In addition to the ankle fracture, Tanen claimed exacerbations of pre-existing intervertebral herniations at L4-5 and L5-S1, as well as an exacerbation of osteoarthritic conditions in her lower back and radiculopathy. Tanen underwent in-patient physical therapy subsequent to her ankle surgery. Her physical therapy course was intermittent through 2016. Tanen claimed continuing pain, decreased range of motion in her lower back and ankle, and dependence on a cane due to a limp. She ultimately claimed her injuries constituted a 20-percent bodily impairment. Tanen's treating pain management doctor testified that Tanen's ankle and lower back injuries were traumatic and caused chronic pain and decreased range of motion. He further testified that Tanen suffered a 25-percent impairment of the lower left extremity and 15- to 20-percent whole body impairment. Tanen sought recovery of unspecified damages for past and future pain and suffering, medical expenses and loss of normal life. Tanen claimed she was unable to work through July 2011, and incurred $22,000 in lost wages. Plaintiff's counsel asked the jury to award 20-percent of what they would award a 100-percent disabled quadriplegic. The defense contended that Tanen had suffered a fracture of the left ankle five years prior to the subject accident and had been treating her ankle through 2010. Therefore, the defense argued that the injury sustained in the subject accident was not traumatic in nature. The defense also argued that Tanen suffered from longstanding arthritic changes in her cervical and lumbar spine, as well as radicular pain in both lower extremities.

Result:

The jury found for the defendants and a defense verdict was entered.

Trial Information:

Judge:

Gregory Pasquale

Demand:

$950,000

Offer:

N/A

Trial Length:

7  days

Trial Deliberations:

3.5  hours

Jury Vote:

11-0

Post Trial:

Plaintiff's counsel filed a motion for a new trial based upon the introduction of medical evidence, as well as a motion to set aside the verdict as against the weight of the evidence and due to jury selection discrimination.

Editor's Comment:

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiff's and defense counsel.