The Colorado Supreme Court upheld a jury verdict allowing a female truck driver who slipped and fell on spilled grease at a Greeley, CO, Wal-Mart store to keep a nearly $10 million award.
On the second day of the original trial, 41-year old Holly Averyt’s lawyers found a city document backing up her claim that she fell at the site of a greasy spill at the big box store. Until that point, Wal-Mart had told jurors no-spill had occurred.
Following her fall, Averyt underwent three spine surgeries, was unable to return to work, and lost her truck. The jury awarded her $15 million in November 2010, the largest slip-and-fall judgment in the United States. Wal-Mart appealed and a lower court granted the company a new trial, saying the award was “excessive, not supported by the evidence and could only be the result of prejudice and bias and the jury’s desire to punish Wal-Mart.” Wal-Mart argued that Averyt’s attorneys failed to disclose the city documents.
The Court’s Decision
The Supreme Court’s ruling threw out the order for a new trial, saying Averyt’s attorney’s had no requirement to disclose a document that could be easily found in public records. The court also said any prejudice the jury may have harbored toward Wal-Mart was due to its initial refusal to produce evidence or admit the existence of the grease spill. The Justices then reduced the award by about $5 million because of the state’s cap on non-economic damages.
“The court’s ruling is understandable for anyone who has ever tried a jury trial,” said Chicago trial attorney Craig D. Tobin, who has tried any number of slip-and-fall matters. “When a jury thinks you lied to them, they have a hard time believing anything else you may have to say.”
Tobin says that slip-and-fall cases tend to be difficult cases to prove. “Most people slip and fall on the proverbial banana peel in a grocery store. Once they leave, there is usually no evidence left nor are there usually any witnesses to the fall. In this case, the plaintiff was essentially lucky to have evidence of the grease spill. It sealed her victory.”
As a spine patient himself with numerous back surgeries under his belt, Tobin understands the challenges the plaintiff, in this case, would have. “Her three surgeries are indicative of nerve damage and that would mean she would have a great deal of pain and a difficult recovery. She would likely be unable to drive again, and so her economic damages would be great for the rest of her lifetime. I have great sympathy for her and imagine the jury did as well in rendering their verdict,” he says.
By: Anne Gallagher
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