Slip and fall on tile stairway at medical building leads to claim of TBI. $2.6 million. Sonoma County.

Summary

Sales rep slips and falls down stairway at medical complex, says stairs were wet from rain.  Defendant hospital admits liability at trial, but denies plaintiff suffered significant brain damage.

The Case

  • Case Name: Tuttle v. Ukiah Adventist Hospital dba Ukiah Valley Medical Center
  • Court and Case Number: Sonoma County Superior Court / SCV248442
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Thursday, December 04, 2014
  • Date Action was Filed: Monday, October 18, 2010
  • Type of Action: Slip and Fall
  • Plaintiffs:
    Jack Tuttle, 51, male, medical sales representative
    Megan Tuttle, 50, female, office/financial manager
  • Defendants:
    Ukiah Adventist Hospital dba Ukiah Valley Medical Center (Tenant of premises where plaintiff fell).
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $2,626,378
  • Net Verdict or Award: $2,626,378
  • Settlement Amount: With defendants not in at trial: Cash Settlement: $1,735,000; Structured Settlement: $1 million reached August 7, 2014.
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    Related Settlements Defendants:


    Ceramic Tile, Inc., a tile manufacturer
    Selberg Associates, Inc., the architect
    Crane of Ukiah, Inc., the contractor
    Gary Peterson, Carol Peterson and Peterson Tile, the subcontractor
    Ukiah Valley Medical Plaza, LP - the owner of the subject premises

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: Waived by defendant.
  • Economic Damages:

    $1,686,378.86

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    $790,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 17 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days.
  • Jury Polls: Various.
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: See additional notes at bottom.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    The Liccardo Law Firm LLP by Salvador A. Liccardo, Laura S. Liccardo and Paul S. Liccardo, San Jose.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    McNamara Law Firm by Martin Ambacher and Nolan Armstrong, Walnut Creek.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Richard J. Andolsen, M.D., family medicine, Healdsburg. (Treating Physician)
    Alex Barchuk, M.D., orthopedic rehabilitation, Kentfield.
    Deborah L. Doherty, M.D., physical medicine, Kentfield.
    Carol R. Hyland, M.A., life care planning, Lafayette.
    Michael McDermott, M.D., orthopedics, Santa Rosa. (Treating Physician)
    J. Richard Mendius, M.D., neurology, Greenbrae. (Treating Physician)
    Richard P. Olcese, Psy.D., neuropsychology, Santa Rosa. (Treating Physician)
    Gary Stimac, M.D., Ph.D., radiology, Seattle, WA (Neuroradiologist)

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Thomas G. Sampson, M.D., orthopedic surgery, San Francisco.
    Jerome A. Barakos, M.D., neuroradiology, San Francisco.
    Alan D. Shonkoff, Ph.D., neuropsychology, Berkeley.
    Gary P. McCalla, M.D., emergency medicine, Santa Rosa.
    Mark Luoto, M.D., emergency medicine, Ukiah.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Louis Y. Cheng, Ph.D., injury biomechanics, Alameda.
    Thaddeus J. Whalen, Jr., Ph.D., economics, Saratoga.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Margo R. Ogus, Ph.D., economics, Mountain View.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Around 9 a.m. on April 28, 2010, plaintiff Jack Tuttle, 50, a medical sales representative, slipped on the 2nd floor landing and fell two flights of stairs at a medical complex, Ukiah Valley Medical Center in Ukiah.  He was not holding onto the handrail when he slipped.  The medical complex was newly constructed, only 2½ years prior to the fall.  It rained for two days prior to and including the date of plaintiff's fall. Tuttle sustained injuries to his ankle, knee, shoulder, elbow and head.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the architectural design of the medical complex included an open atrium that allowed rain water to reach the central landing and stairwell, creating a slippery condition on Spanish tile.  In the construction of the medical building, the prefabricated stairwell did not fit without adjustments to its alignment, creating code violations on the landing and the stairs themselves so as to allow the ponding of rain water on the upper middle and lower landings of the central stairwell.  Further, that adhesive material on the toe of the individual stairs was excessively worn.  That defendant hospital had clear notice of the defects consequent to prior slip and falls on the tile in various locations of the building’s second floor.  Plaintiff contended that the handrail was not sufficiently extended on the upper landing and that plaintiff had attempted to reach for the handrail unsuccessfully.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Prior to trial, defendants denied that rainwater reached either the landing or the central stairwell; they denied the plaintiff fell down the entire 2-story stairwell, contended that plaintiff was negligent in not watching where he was walking and in failure to use the handrail.

    Prior to trial, defendant denied any defects whatsoever in the stairwell or landing and denied any negligence in maintenance of the stairwell.  Defendant further denied there were any prior falls because of slippery tile. Also contended that plaintiff’s head was not injured in the fall. 

    At the commencement of trial, defendant hospital stipulated and admitted that they were negligent and that their negligence caused plaintiff’s fall, that there was no comparative negligence on the part of the plaintiff or any other party to the action.  

    Case was tried against the defendant hospital on damages alone.  Defense experts contended that there was no evidence the  plaintiff struck his head in the course of the fall, but if he did, he received only a minor concussion and no brain injury.  Defendant's neuropsychologist testified that his complaints of memory limitations, executive function compromise, and emotional anxiety were minor and passing.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Fractured knee; shoulder dislocation; ankle sprain/strain; elbow contusion; loss of range of motion. Brain injury (TBI) with frontal lobe internal bleed leading to memory impairment; wife claimed loss of consortium.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $445,136.11
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $3,928,786
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $215,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $390,000

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: 8/20/2013: $1,800,000 for Jack and $98,000 for consortium for Megan.$4,350,000 for Jack; $350,000 for Megan.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: 11/27/13: joint $350,000 to both plaintiffs; 8/19/14: to Jack, $550,000; to Megan, $50,000.
  • Defendant Offer during Trial: $135,000 offered at trial on day of verdict.

Additional Notes

Amended judgment entered on 4/6/15.  Because plaintiff had settled with four other defendants before trial for a total of $2.735 million, under the law (CCP 877)  the defendant normally would be entitled to a set-off for the economic loss compensation portion of the prior settlements.  In this case, the judge gave the defendant an approximate  $1.1 million set-off plus an additional $375,000 set-off for the workman compensation lien which the defendants bought from the Workman Compensation Carrier, Liberty Mutual. Those deductions from the verdict were done in post-trial motions after the original judgment had been entered based upon the verdict.  As a consequence the judge entered an "Amended judgment" to reflect his rulings post judgment.  Plaintiff is now on appeal contesting the set-off from the prior pre-trial settlements based upon the fact that this defendant entered into a stipulation before trial that no one else was liable but them.

Post-Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements:

Several post-trial motions concerning the following issues of CCP §877 set-off for prior settlements and application of common fund against set-offs for attorney fees and costs.  Further, resolving the amount of workman’s compensation lien purchased by defendant and determining whether credit for attorney fees is applicable to each.  Rulings on whether first or last plaintiffs’ CCP §998 offers apply for awarding pre-judgment interest and awarding expert costs; and lastly, whether trial presentation technology is an allowable cost.  Disputed amounts approximate close to $2 million.  Trial judge ruled against plaintiffs and for defendant on all issues except reducing lien by amount of plaintiffs’ attorney fees.  All above issues on appeal.

The verdict exceeded plaintiffs' 8/27/13 offers, so plaintiffs are claiming the right to 998 benefits for those offers. The defendant objected claiming that the second offer extinguishes the first under case law. The trial judge ruled in the favor of defendants.  Plaintiffs are appealing that ruling as well as others.

 

Per defense counsel:

The final judgment was $1,176,223 ($1,026,223 to Mr. Tuttle and $150,000 to Mrs. Tuttle) plus recoverable costs.

The date of verdict was Friday, 12/5/14, not 12/4/14.

 

Note: Originally filed as Tuttle v. Dal-Tile, et al., modified at trial to Tuttle v. Ukiah Adventist Hospital dba Ukiah Valley Medical Center.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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