You Can’t Win Them All…Or Can You? A Slippery Slip and Fall Case
I had a very strange experience in court this week that capped off a bizarre sequence of events. The judge ruled against my client, but ultimately I was almost glad she did. I had to endure an insurance defense lawyer’s cackling laughter after the judge issued her ruling. But at least I was spared being called a liar in front of a court room full of lawyers!
This story begins in February during the inspection of an accident site. Defense counsel and I visited a loading dock at an area hospital. My client, while delivering vending items to the hospital, slipped and fell while on this wet loading dock. He suffered a fracture and other significant injuries. The hospital permits puddles of water to remain on its dock. And so we pursued this litigation. It’s not an easy case, but one that I think is worthwhile.
During the site inspection this insurance defense lawyer told me that no one else had ever slipped on this dock. She was suggesting that the dock was perfectly safe and that it was my client’s own fault he had gotten hurt. Within seconds of making this statement, defense counsel herself slipped at the exact spot where my client had slipped. I thought maybe she was kidding around and so I asked her if she had actually slipped. She confirmed that she had, but suggested that her shoes were to blame. I told her that the settlement demand just doubled, and we both chuckled.
Later that day I faxed a request that she produce the surveillance video of our site inspection. The hospital has a security camera constantly filming at this site. A few days later I received her response. She refused to produce the video. And so I filed a motion with the court requesting the court’s help in obtaining this video.
When I got to court to argue the motion, I walked over to defense counsel and requested a copy of her written response to my motion. She gave it to me…literally, telling me what a liar I was about the site inspection. She assured me that she would announce in open court that I had made the whole thing up. Her written response to my motion described her movement as simply being a startle response to being so close to the edge of the loading dock. She flat out denied slipping. I told her how sorry I was that she was going to do this and told her that she was going to embarrass herself.
I sat down, somewhat mortified, and thinking about how I would handle this revelation. To make this rather long story a bit shorter, when we got up to argue the motion, I advised the judge what had happened at the site inspection and that I needed the video to rebut the defense that no one else had ever slipped. The defense lawyer had also previously stated that the weather was to blame for my client’s injury. The site inspection was held on a perfect weather day and yet there were puddles on the dock. And so the video was relevant to help rebut that defense too.
Without any explanation of any kind, the judge flat out denied my motion. She apparently did not think that the video evidence was relevant to the litigation. I looked at defense counsel and she had a smirk on her face. Fair enough. But as we walked out of the courtroom she began laughing loudly. This continued during her entire walk to the elevator. I guess she felt that I was the one who had been embarrassed. I knew in advance that this lawyer was shady. She and her law firm have the well deserved reputation of being untrustworthy and overzealous in their efforts to protect their clients from paying out on injury claims. And so I was not totally taken by surprise by these events.
Thinking back on what happened, I’m still a little mortified. What a shame that an officer of the court has so little regard for the truth, and for her own dignity. I am happy though that I was spared the trauma of being called a liar in front of my colleagues. But what about my client? Was his case hurt by the judge’s ruling? I don’t think so. In defense counsel’s written response to my motion she suggested that the dock was wet because the hospital “constantly hosed down the loading dock to keep it clean”. The main reason I needed the video was to show how wet it was on a perfect weather day. This admission by defense counsel gives me that and more. And so I don’t regret pursuing the video, even though the process was unsettling.