Final Verdict: Unmarked Step Causes Injuries
If you’ve ever been climbing steps while carrying something that blocks your view, you know the feeling when you expect another step after you’ve already reached the top. Your foot drops farther than you had anticipated, and you realize you overestimated the number of steps in the staircase. After a moment, you regain your balance and proceed.
It might be a momentary annoyance in most instances, but a missed step can be a serious problem in certain situations. Kenneth Blevins, a 58-year-old retired police officer, was attending a convention at the Sheraton Oceanfront Hotel in Virginia Beach on May 2013. It was evening, around half an hour after sunset, and Kenneth was walking across an unlit outdoor patio near the hotel swimming pool.
Unexpectedly, Kenneth felt the pathway drop out from under his feet, and he fell hard into a concrete wall. Pain shot through his right shoulder. He had stepped off an abrupt drop between a brick walkway to a lower-level walkway. Because the outdoor area was unlit and there was no handrail or another mechanism to identify the drop, he hadn’t seen it. The bricks were already slightly uneven, making it even more difficult to identify the drop-off without light.
Kenneth was taken by ambulance to a local emergency room, where they determined that his shoulder was dislocated. He also had abrasions and contusions on his face and abdomen. Following up with an orthopedic surgeon a week later resulted in a diagnostic MRI, which revealed tears to the tendons in his shoulder and a tear in his right biceps muscle. A month after the incident, Kenneth underwent surgery to have the tears repaired by arthroscopy. Cohen & Cohen, P.C.
It took six months of physical therapy before Kenneth was able to regain moderate use of his arm. However, he still experienced occasional pain and had difficulty extending his arm backward. Kenneth sued Clearwater Investment Associates, the owner of the Sheraton Oceanfront Hotel, alleging failure to warn, dangerous conditions, and negligent repair resulting in personal injuries.
Kenneth had nearly $45,000 in medical bills and had been unable to work as a part-time bailiff during the period of his treatment. His lawsuit claimed damages for past and future pain and suffering in addition to his medical costs. The hotel’s attorneys filed documents arguing that Kenneth was partly to blame for his injuries, since he had crossed the pathway earlier in the day and should have known about the problem with the walkway. However, it became known that the hotel had painted marking lines and installed handrails at the exact site of Kenneth’s fall within a week of the incident.
Ordinarily, a lawsuit goes through a period known as “discovery” in which both parties disclose all relevant documents which may become important at trial. This process can take a lengthy amount of time and represents a significant cost for both parties. Before discovery could begin, however, the attorneys for the hotel decided it would be better to settle the case than to risk high losses at trial. After negotiations, the hotel decided to pay Kenneth and his attorneys $75,000 in compensation for his medical bills and injuries from the unmarked steps.