Verdict: $1,300,000 (two trials, in 2010 and 2012, and one appeal, in 2013)
This premises liability case resulted from a metal grate that collapsed at the Bayonne Bridge tollhouse administration building. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey owns, uses and maintains the building, and was the sole defendant.
The plaintiff, an off-duty Port Authority gardener, was standing on the grate with a supervisor next to an open window trying to “fish” his keys out of a locked employee break room with a jerry-rigged fishing pole.
As he he walked off the grate, the section that he was walking on collapsed, plunging him nine feet down into an access pit abutting a building.
Testimony at trial demonstrated that the grates covered the access pit had a hatch, as they were designed to allow heavy machinery and furniture to be brought into and out of the building basement. They were, therefore, designed to be walked upon.
Expert testimony elicited at trial concluded that the grates were misaligned and hanging onto a support beam by no more than a ¼ inch before they shifted, and had been that way for years. Essentially, this was an accident waiting to happen.
There were two trials in federal court (Eastern District of New York) that ultimately resulted in $1,300,000 in personal injury damages.
The appeal was necessary because the jury found the plaintiff to be 40% at fault. On the post-trial motion to the trial judge, we argued that he could not be found to be comparatively negligent because it was unforeseeable to a layman that a structural collapse would take place. The trial judge disagreed, so the plaintiff appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals.
The appellate court reversed, thus finding that the Port Authority was 100% responsible for the collapse. The plaintiff couldn’t be negligent because the grate’s cave-in wasn’t foreseeable to a person such as him.
After taking into account a set-off for Social Security disability payments, and adding back in interest on the award that the Port Authority owed to him, the plaintiff ultimately collected approximately $1,454,000.
The case was subsequently analyzed at the New York Injury Cases Blog.