Crime & Courts

Columbia law clerk gets $750,000 settlement for bad fall on slippery court steps

Fall took place inside U.S. Bankruptcy courthouse in Columbia
Fall took place inside U.S. Bankruptcy courthouse in Columbia

A law clerk to a Columbia federal bankruptcy judge has received a settlement of $750,000 for injuries he suffered in a 2013 fall down courthouse steps inside the U.S. Bankruptcy Court building in downtown Columbia.

The settlement between law clerk Patrick Mohan, 35, and Crockett Facilities Services, came on the second day of a federal civil jury trial before U.S. Judge Bryan Harwell.

In a lawsuit, Mohan had alleged that Crockett, the Maryland company in charge of maintaining the bankruptcy court building on Laurel Street, not only had removed slip-resistant foot safety strips from the interior stone steps, but its workers had applied wax or polish to the steps, allowing them “to remain in an unreasonable, dangerous and slippery condition.”

Crockett ultimately admitted responsibility in the matter, and the trial was to determine the amount of any damages it had to pay. Mohan suffered a herniated disk and had $40,000 in medical bills, along with pains expected to last a lifetime, said his lawer, Robert Goings, who tried the case with Jessica Gooding.

“Patrick is still in pain a lot,” Goings said. “He didn’t want to fall down those steps that day, but he did.”

Evidence Goings had included photos taken just after the incident of the glossy steps without their usual safety, skid-resistant strips that prevent someone’s feet from flying out beneath them.

“Our pictures showed the steps were buffed to a beautiful but slippery and dangerous shine,” Goings said.

Brett Bayne, lawyer for Crockett along with Andy Delaney, said his client was satisfied with the settlement amount because Mohan’s lawyers were going to ask for much more than that in any jury argument.

“Once we figured out the strips had been removed, and the stairs had been polished, we conceded liability at that point,” Bayne said.

One point in their side’s favor, Bayne said, was that the jury had heard testimony, during Mohan’s cross-examination, about a Peloton spinning bike Mohan had bought after the fall and posted pictures of on his Twitter social media account.

“He tweeted about all the rides he was doing,” Bayne said. “But he still did have an injury. It’s not like he did not have an injury to his back.”

Under Crockett’s contract to maintain the building, it was supposed to wax and polish all flooring surfaces twice a year.

In this case, what happened was that Crockett had waxed and polished the bankruptcy courthouse’s floors over the Thanksgiving weekend in 2013, Bayne said.

“They were re-applying the stair strips and they ran out. And it being the middle of the night, they could not obtain any more, and then the fall happened the next day. While they were waiting the next day for strips to arrive, the fall happened,” Bayne said. “It was a simple mistake, and unfortunately, it caught Patrick.”

Goings, who said he would have asked the jury for well more than $1 million in a jury argument, said jury verdicts are always uncertain and that he was pleased with the settlement. “They put an offer on the table that we could accept.”

As for the tweeted photos, the bike was a stationary exercise bicycle and Mohan had bought it to continue non-impact, cardiovascular exercise based on doctor’s instructions, Goings said.

“He had an exercise bike – so does every grandmother in America,” Goings said. “In any case, we are very pleased with the outcome. Most falls are preventable, and in this case all Crockett had to do was buy a strip that only cost $1 or $2. It’s a mistake that cost them $750,000.”

According to the National Safety Council, unintentional falls are one of leading causes of death and injury in the U.S. each year. In 2014, some 32,000 Americans died in falls. Senior citizens are especially vulnerable to deaths and injuries in falls, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

Fall Prevention Tips

▪ Clean up spills immediately and stay off freshly mopped floors.

▪ Remove debris and phone and electrical cords from walking areas.

▪ Clean tripping hazards from stairs and walkways.

▪ Have good lighting.

▪ Wear shoes with good support and slip-resistant soles

▪ Pay attention.

National Safety Council and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention