$14,332,000: Store Manager Falls From Shelf Leads To Settlement In The Millions

CASE DESCRIPTION: A store manager at Linens ‘N Things fell off a merchandising island while stocking merchandise.  As a results of the fall the gentleman fractured his skull rendering can with permanent brain damage.  Plaintiff brought a workers compensation suit against the store and be subcontractor who designed and built the island based on the theory of negligence.

RESULT: $14,332,519.33 total settlement.  Note $11,332,519.33 will go to Mr. William B. for past and future workers’ compensation benefits.  Plus $1.5 Million will go his future workers’ compensation credit.  Another $1.5 Million will reimburse the workers’ compensation carrier.

Plaintiff was an employee of linens ‘N things, working as a merchandise manager for the  Costa Mesa store.  On May 24th, 1996, while stocking the store in preparation for its grand opening, Mr. William B. fell from an approximately twelve foot high merchandising island, sustaining multiple skull fractures and severe, permanent irreversible brain damage.  Mr. William B. was sitting on the top shelf in violation of store policy and stocking the area above the shells.  Mr. William B’s fall was caused by the breaking of a crown molding fixture which ran along the edge the merchandising island.  This island, including the crown molding piece which broke off, was assembled by defendant, Possell Construction Company.  Mr. William B. was 29 years old when he was injured.  As a results of the injuries, plaintiff. was rendered totally and permanently disable.  Mr. William B. now resides in a 24 hour care facility and will remain there for the remainder of his life.

In the case the plaintiff contended that Kenyon Company assembled the merchandising island involved and designed the attachment method used to affix the crown molding piece that broke and caused Mr. William B’s injury.  It is plaintiff’s contention that Kenyon’s defective design and its negligent implementation of that design were the direct cause of the failure of the crown molding, which resulted in Mr. William B’s injury.  Plaintiffs contended it was common knowledge that employees performed “top stocking” of merchandise on these merchandising island’s and that the crown molding was used as an extension of the top shelf, therefore it was foreseeable that an employee such as the plaintiff would rely on the crown molding to support its weight.  Further, defendant Possell Construction Co. is vicariously liable for the negligence of its subcontractor, defendant Kenyon Construction Co.

The defense alleged that they were not required to attach the crown molding with any greater strength than is required to support its own weight and that the attachment of crown molding was for decorative purposes only.  Defendants relied on Linens ‘N Things employee manuals, which prohibited employees from standing or sitting on the shelves at any time.  The manual also stated that the crown molding at issue was incapable of supporting any weight.  Defendants claimed that any liability would be reduced might be overwhelming comparative negligence of the plaintiff and his employer.

In regards to damages, the defendant’s contended that plaintiffs life expectancy was no more than 10 years, which drastically reduce the quantum of future economic losses.

TYPE OF CASE: Personal Injury/Workers Compensation Subrogation

INJURIES: Multiple skull fractures and severe, permanent, irreversible brain damage.  He will need 24 hour care for the remainder of his life.

DATE & LOCATION OF INCIDENT: On 5/24/96 in the City of Costa Mesa.

PLAINTIFF’S AGE: 29 year old at the time of the incident.

OCCUPATION: Merchandise Manager for the Linens ‘N Things in Costa Mesa.

Darren O. Aitken & Wylie A. Aitken

For Plaintiff – William B., by and through his conservator, Joan B.
Henslee Smith

For Plaintiffs-in-Intervention – National Union Fire Insurance Company of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and South Coast Linens ‘N Things, Inc.

J. Dean Rice

For Defendant – Possell Construction Company and Kenyon Construction Company
John G. Tavetian

For Defendant – Kenyon Construction Company

DEFENDANTS’ INSURANCE CO.: For Kenyon Construction Co. – USF & Insurance Company
For Possell Construction Co. – Golden Eagle Insurance Company