Airline passenger slips and falls on wet floor in busy LAX bathroom. Defense argues "it didn't happen" and the tile floor was safe.
- Case Name: Lori Triplett v. City of Los Angeles, et al.
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC518329
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, October 20, 2016
- Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, August 14, 2013
- Type of Case: Dangerous Condition Public Property, Negligence, Premises Liability, Slip and Fall
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. H. Chester Horn
Plaintiffs: Lori Triplett, 56, contractor/rental property manager.
Defendants: City of Los Angeles
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $2,160,000
- Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
Past loss earnings: $80,000
Future loss earnings: $140,000
Future medical expenses: $500,000
Past noneconomic loss: $240,000
Future noneconomic loss: $1,200,000
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 6 days.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days.
Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Kramer Holcomb Sheik LLP by Daniel K. Kramer and Teresa A. Johnson, Los Angeles.
Rogers Ehrhardt Weber & Howard LLC by James R. Howard, Columbia, MO.
Attorney for the Defendant:
Law Offices of Robert B. Charboneau by Robert Charboneau, Burbank.
Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Fardad Mobin, M.D., neurosurgery, Beverly Hills.
Thomas Reinsel, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Columbia, MO. (Treating physician.)
Mark Drymalski, M.D., orthopedic rehabilitation, Columbia, MO. (Treating physician.)
Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
Jacob Tauber, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Beverly Hills.
Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Brad Avrit, P.E., safety engineering, Marina del Rey.
Art Croft, Ph.D., spine research, San Diego.
Defendant's Technical Expert(s):
Kenneth Solomon, Ph.D., biomechanics and human factors, Woodland Hills.
Facts and Background
Facts and Background:
Plaintiff flew to Los Angeles with her 78-year-old mother to help care for her aunt for five days. After landing in Terminal 1 at LAX, they both walked toward the crowded women’s restroom within the concourse. Plaintiff and her mother queued in line to wait for open stalls. A woman walked out of the large stall at the end of the hallway and the door closed behind her.
Plaintiff walked down the hallway, reached out with her left hand to open the door, simultaneously stepping with her right foot, and slipped on spilled coffee. She fell to the ground, landing on her back and left side. Her left leg went numb. A custodian walked up next to her, and without saying a word, placed a "wet floor" sign next to her head and walked away.
Plaintiff was on the floor for about five minutes before her mother was able to help her up and out of the bathroom to wait for airport police to arrive and take her statement. Later, plaintiff’s cousin took her to the ER where she was diagnosed with lumbar strain/sprain. Plaintiff's pain continued to worsen upon returning to Missouri, where she underwent physical therapy, injections, and ultimately surgery.
That LAX employees created the dangerous condition by installing unsafe tile. LAX had refurbished this restroom in around 2009 or 2010. LAX's own PMK on tile admitted that LAX had a policy to have slip-resistant tile in restrooms, because liquid often gets on the floor either from leaky pipes or spills; that slip-resistant tile prevents injury. Yet, when measured by both plaintiff and defense experts, the friction coefficient of the tile was well below the threshold for safety.
In response to defendant's contentions (below), plaintiff argued that she did fall and that her own testimony, the testimony of her mother, and the Incident Report all stated that she fell, her clothes were wet and she had visible injuries on her body following the incident. Further, plaintiff argued she could not have avoided the spill as the door to the stall was closed as she walked down the bathroom hallway, and because the bathroom was so busy, she could not see the path in front of her clearly until she had opened the stall door and stepped in, at which point it was too late.
That defendant's "bacteria" argument was a complete "red herring:" any tile can be cleaned with the use of antibacterial cleaning agents. Whether the same tile was in different airport bathrooms had no relevance to this matter.
As to causation, although plaintiff had pre-existing back issues, these were resolved by the time of her fall. Further, any pre-existing issues simply made her an eggshell plaintiff who was more susceptible to these serious injuries when falling.
Defendant contended that (1) plaintiff was lying about slipping and falling in the restroom as there was no evidence of foot or body "tracking" marks through the liquid on the ground in photographs taken at the scene; (2) plaintiff should have avoided the spill by walking around it because it was open and obvious; (3) the tile installed in the restroom was safe enough because getting more slip-resistant tile would have promoted bacteria growth; (4) the tile was safe because defendant's expert has seen this tile in other airport restrooms; and (5) plaintiff had pre-existing conditions and injuries to her back, so this fall could not have caused all of her pain.
Injuries and Other Damages
Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Plaintiff was diagnosed with an L4-5 disc herniation and left hip labral tear. She did 11 months of conservative treatment, three epidurals, then ultimately required a laminectomy at L4-5 in 2013. Complications from the surgery due to a softball-sized seroma put her back in the hospital to have it removed in a second surgical procedure.
Plaintiff continued to treat following her surgery, and received more injections. Plaintiff is not a candidate for future surgery. Past medicals were around $100,000 and waived at trial. In terms of future care, Dr. Mobin testified that plaintiff would need 6-10 epidurals, two facet block injections, a rhizotomy and lifetime physical therapy and meds. The cost of future care was $300,000 to $500,000.
Plaintiff was a contractor and rental property manager who did her own handy work, roofing, carpeting, plumbing, sheet rock, etc. She had to hire people to take over when she was injured, at a cost of about $20,000/year. Plaintiff's counsel asked for 10 years of future lost wages.
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: Waived.
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $400,000
- Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $80,000
- Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $200,000
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff §998 Demand: $150,000
- Defendant §998 Offer: $61,000