Chartwell Partner William H. Grae Secures Jury Verdict In Favor of Residential Landlord in Bronx Premises-Liability TBI Case



William H. Grae

WILLIAM H. GRAE has a breadth of litigation defense experience, with a primary focus on personal injury liability defense. He has a broad range of trial and appellate experience in this area and has worked on behalf of insurers and self-insured entities, principally involving cases of construction-site accidents, commercial and residential premises liability, defense of interstate motor-carriers in catastrophic truck accidents, and litigation of related coverage issues, in state and...

On May 21, 2018, Chartwell partner William H. Grae secured a jury verdict in favor of Chartwell’s clients, the owner and managing agent of a residential property in the Bronx, who had been sued as a result of a slip-and-fall that occurred in an interior lobby vestibule two (2) days after the Christmas Blizzard of 2010.  Plaintiff was represented at trial by Sheri Holland of Burns & Harris.  Supreme Court Justice Elizabeth Taylor presided over the trial.  By a 5-1 vote, the jury concluded that although defendants were aware of the presence of dangerous condition on the premises, defendants lacked a sufficient opportunity to remedy the condition before plaintiff was injured.  On this basis, the jury dismissed plaintiff’s claims in their entirety. Plaintiff’s post-verdict motion to set aside the verdict were denied by trial judge Hon. Elizabeth Taylor, J.S.C. 

 

Plaintiff alleged that she slipped and fell on a wet floor in the entry way of an apartment building on December 28, 2010, as she was returning to pick up her children from a babysitter.  The date in question was two (2) days after the start of the Christmas Blizzard of 2010, also known as “Snowpocolypse”, a record-breaking snowfall that surprised the City of New York. 

 

According to FDNY EMT dispatch records, however, plaintiff’s the actual accident itself occurred roughly twelve hours after the snow stopped falling.  Plaintiff, who was 34 on the date of her accident, claimed that she struck her head and back on the concrete and tile floor of the vestibule, sustaining multiple injuries, including a traumatic brain injury involving permanent photo- and phonophobia, motor impairment, and executive-processing deficits.  Plaintiff, who had been employed on and prior to her accident by a clothing department store, claimed that the consequences of her accident left her completely and permanently disabled. 

 

Defendants had sold the premises subsequent to plaintiff’s accident and roughly six (6) years prior to trial and lacked access to witnesses with personal knowledge of the conditions that were present at the time and place plaintiff claimed she had fallen.  Nonetheless, defense counsel was able to obtain testimony from witnesses offered by plaintiff, along with one of the EMT’s who responded to the accident scene, to provide the jury with evidence that the severity of the exterior weather conditions made it virtually impossible for the building to keep the vestibule floor dry.

 

During the course of the unified trial, defense counsel also offered substantial evidence that plaintiff had made inconsistent statements to different treatment providers.  The jury was also offered evidence that plaintiff sporadically exhibited behavior and capabilities while medical care for other conditions that could not be reconciled with her claim that her residual impairments were unrelenting, permanent, and disabling. 

 

Defendants’ proof included transcripts from a vocational school from which plaintiff obtained a professional certificate and degree after she relocated post-accident from the Bronx to Georgia. 

Plaintiff was permitted by the trial judge, however, to offer evidence that had never been disclosed during discovery that she obtained “special accommodations” from the school  Over objection, the trial judge also allowed plaintiff to offer evidence by means of testimony by her designated expert consisting of treatment records from and test results obtained by treating physicians who did not testify at trial.  Finally, in a particularly unusual ruling, the trial judge rejected defendants’ demand that the jury be given any instructions regarding comparative negligence and be issued a verdict form that would permit allocation of comparative fault to plaintiff, effectively rendering comparative negligence inadmissible at trial without explanation.

 

Plaintiff’s settlement demand throughout an unusually prolonged and adversarial discovery process  prior to trial was $650,000.  During jury selection and trial, plaintiff’s trial counsel increased the demand to a high of $1.8 Million.  A high-low agreement was negotiated by the primary carrier following the close of plaintiff’s case that capped plaintiff’s potential recovery at $950,000 and guaranteed plaintiff a minimum recovery of $175,000. 

 

The High-Low Agreement was put on the record prior to the start of deliberations.  Nonetheless, plaintiff sought to set aside the verdict based on alleged inconsistency of the jury’s answers to interrogatories.  In opposing the motion, defense counsel relied on the extensive course of oral argument that had been undertaken concerning the jury instructions, which included demands by plaintiff’s counsel for precisely the jury interrogatories that she claimed resulted in unfair and improper jury confusion.  Ultimately, however, the trial court adopted defense counsel’s argument that the jury’s interrogatory answers could be readily explained, and that this explanation was viable notwithstanding plaintiff’s counsel’s disagreement with it.  On this basis, Justice Taylor denied plaintiff’s post-trial motion and entered judgment for defendant.

 

Mr. Grae defends catastrophic exposure personal-injury actions arising out of trucking, construction, and general liability/premises accidents throughout New York and New Jersey.  His practice predominantly focuses on venues that have traditionally been considered unusually dangerous for corporate defendants.   He relies on an unusually broad range of professional and personal experience to develop creative solutions to legal challenges to provide improbably favorable results for his clients.  He is admitted to practice before the State and federal courts in the States of New Jersey and New York.