The plaintiff, Sabrina Loeb, and her husband, Tom Loeb, went to the Crystal Mall Sunday morning May 31, 2015 to shop for drapes. Most stores in the mall did not open until 11:00 a.m. but mall doors were open at 9:00 a.m. to allow employees to get to their shops and also to allow people to “mall walk.” The Loebs entered at one end of the mall and went upstairs to visit a Bed, Bath and Beyond, which was open. Not finding what they were looking for, they decided to continue further into the mall to see whether any stores in the mall offered candies and nuts. They got about halfway through the mall and decided to return to their car. They took an elevator down to the first floor and began walking back toward the entrance near where they parked.
They walked about 40 feet from the elevator when Mrs. Loeb suddenly slipped and fell. She began screaming loudly, drawing the attraction of passersby. A security guard was in the area activating an escalator and responded. By the time the guard arrived, two or three people were attending to Mrs. Loeb, who lay on the ground in pain. Her knee had an obvious deformity.
The floor of the mall where the plaintiff fell is made of tile. A witness who said she was walking about ten feet behind the Loebs when Mrs. Loeb fell said she went over immediately to Mrs. Loeb and saw water on the floor. The security guard arrived shortly thereafter and testified, via deposition, that she did not see any water when she first arrived. The witness went to a nearby pretzel store and obtained a bag of ice to help Mrs. Loeb. The security guard testified she assumed that water on the floor, which she later saw, came from the ice bag dripping water. The witness said it did not.
The tile floors in the mall are cleaned by machines that a housekeeping employee drives through the mall on Sunday mornings, usually finishing the work by 9:30 or 10:00 a.m. The machines worked by spraying water on the floor. The water is then gathered by a squeegee at the back of the machine and sucked up by a vacuum. The fall happened at about 10:00 a.m.
The operator of the machine testified that the machines sometimes leave drops of water, especially when making turns. But he testified that the area where the plaintiff fell is not an area where the machine turns so as to leave water.
Once Mrs. Loeb was taken away by ambulance, the witness escorted Mr. Loeb out to his car. Along the way, they saw a series of sporadic drops of water traveling in a straight trail. They took photographs.
The plaintiff’s theory of liability was that the cleaning machine left drops of water behind which caused Mrs. Loeb to slip. The plaintiff argued that since the mall knew these machines left water behind, they could have cleaned the floor at night or taken other precautions to make sure that any water left behind was cleaned immediately. Mall management admitted that water on the floor constituted a hazard and should have been cleaned by the housekeeping department, which was under contract to the mall owners and management. The defense argued that the claim the machines left the water behind that caused Ms. Loeb to fall was merely speculation and it was equally likely that a mall walker or employee reporting to work dripped water on the floor. And, under any circumstance, the defense argued the mall made reasonable efforts to keep the floors safe.
As a result of her fall, the plaintiff suffered a complex knee fracture and a complex left wrist fracture. She had open reduction internal fixation for the knee fracture. The wrist, which was initially reduced in the emergency room, was reduced again while the plaintiff was under general anesthesia.
Because the hardware used during the initial knee surgery was causing pain, was visibly pressing against the skin, and restricted range of motion, another surgery was scheduled to remove the hardware. That surgery took place in November, 2015. Thereafter, medical records document a slow recovery with respect to the leg injury.
The plaintiff was seen in November, 2016, by an orthopedic surgeon retained by the plaintiff to evaluate her for purposes of trial. The surgeon documented significant permanencies to the wrist and knee. He further documented atrophy and muscle weakness in the injured leg. Lastly, he predicted the plaintiff was at a very high risk for the early onset of arthritis on account of the knee injury.
Complicating the case was the fact that the plaintiff fell in her basement in December, 2016. She was putting away Christmas boxes, stepped on one, and fell. She testified, and argued, that the reason she fell was because her leg remained in a weakened condition and when the box she stepped on slipped a bit to the side, she was unable to maintain her balance. This injury led to yet another complicated surgery and long period of therapy and recovery.
The plaintiff presented total medical bills of $127,000.00. Because there was a lien, there would be no collateral source reduction. Lost wages were stipulated to be $9,733.00.
The jury deliberated several hours. Ultimately, it awarded a defense verdict. Sabrina Loeb v. Crown Building Maintenance Company, et al, Docket No: KNL-CV15-6025174S