Fall over missed step lands plaintiff $700,000 verdict

David Yates Aug. 30, 2007, 11:43am

When Flo Wilson missed a step and broke her hip at Christus St. Elizabeth Hospital, her husband James Wilson testified in court that he put down his golf clubs, rushed to her side and then began "belligerently" yelling at the hospital's staff – threatening all the while to call renowned plaintiff's attorney Walter Umphrey.

The Wilsons did not call Umphrey, but did hire Timothy Ferguson of the Ferguson Firm and sued Christus Health Southeast Texas in 2005. The personal injury case made it to trial this week in Judge Gary Sanderson's 60th District Court and ended Friday, Aug. 30, with a jury verdict in favor of the Wilsons and $723,000 in damages.

The Wilson's argument was based on a strip of yellow paint -- claiming that if the hospital had bothered to paint a hazard stripe on a step in the parking garage, Flo Wilson would never have tripped and broken her hip. The couple alleged that "an unmarked and unlevel parking lot" was the proximate result of Flo Wilson's hip injury, and the jury agreed.

According to the plaintiffs' lawsuit and testimony given during the trial, on June 8, 2005, Flo Wilson had gone to Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth to visit her sister-in-law. She parked her car on the second level of the hospital's parking garage, visited with her in-law, then proceeded to the elevator.

Flo Wilson testified that one of the elevators was out of service and the other elevator was taking "too long," so she decided to climb two flights of stairs to her car. When she reached the second floor, she began walking to her car but over-stepped the stairwell's landing area.

The defense argued that if Wilson had been paying attention to her surroundings -- instead of possibly scanning the garage for her car -- she would have noticed the landing step.

However, the plaintiffs contend that when the incident occurred in 2005, the parking garage steps were unmarked. Christus officials stated that presently all the garage's landing steps are now clearly marked with a yellow stripe.

The absence of the yellow line, the plaintiffs argue, was a violation of "city and state regulations regarding the marking of uneven steps."
"If a (yellow strip) would have been there, I would have noticed (the uneven step)," Flo Wilson said.

James Wilson testified that because of his wife's injury, she could no longer enjoy activities such as fishing and golf.

He also testified that the yellow line would have prevented his wife's fall. But when defense attorney Wade Quinn asked if he, or his lawyer, had come to that conclusion, James Wilson failed to give a definitive answer.

Before the trial Judge Sanderson had granted several motions in limine, which prohibited the defense from talking about how frivolous lawsuits drive up the cost of insurance rates and wreck the economy, or from bringing up the plaintiffs' past or pending suits or settlements.

Flo Wilson was awarded $242,000 for physical impairment in the past, $90,000 for future impairment, $230,000 for physical pain and mental anguish, $45,000 for future medical care, $68,000 for future pain and anguish, $80,000 for past disfigurement, and $40,000 for future disfigurement.

James Wilson did not receive damages for loss of household services or consortium that he had requested.

The case is No. B175-570

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