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A Typical Slip and Fall with an Atypical $3.64 Million Result (NJ)

January 16, 2020

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<p style="text-align: justify;">In<em> <a href="">Simmons v. Staples Inc.</a>,</em> plaintiff James Simmons was browsing for computers in a Staples office supply store. At some point thereafter, an employee nearby in the area was called away and left a box of merchandise on the ground in one of the store’s aisles. While browsing, plaintiff took a step, tripped on the box of merchandise, and fell. Plaintiff allegedly suffered herniated discs in his lumbar spine, lumbar radiculopathy, and a lumbar aggravation injury as a result of the incident.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">At trial, plaintiff testified that he first experienced pain the day after his trip and fall. His pain eventually began radiating into his lower extremities and transitioned to numbness. Treatments consisted of physical therapy, epidural steroid injections, a lumbar discectomy, and a lumbar laminotomy. Despite this extensive surgical history, plaintiff continued to experience pain and numbness daily and could not tolerate the physicality of his role as a deacon to his church. Plaintiff presented two experts, a pain management doctor and a neurosurgeon, who testified his ailments were permanent.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">While plaintiff’s alleged injuries and subsequent treatments are common, the jury verdict was not. After a deliberation, the Mercer County jury (with a seat in Trenton, New Jersey) awarded the plaintiff $3,500,000 in damages for pain, suffering, and loss of enjoyment of life; $52,030.01 for past medical expenses, and $96,000 for future medical expenses. Based on an 80/20 finding of comparative negligence, the net award was approximately $2,918,424.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Although Staples is currently seeking a new trial or remittitur of the damages award, arguing that the pain and suffering award of $3,500,000 is disproportionate to plaintiff’s lumbar injuries, this case serves as quite a shocking reminder that juries can be unpredictable – especially when defendants have admitted liability and make a stand solely on causation. In this case, the jury was clearly unpersuaded that plaintiff’s lumbar disc herniations were degenerative in nature and painted with a broad damages brush as a result.</p>
<p style="text-align: justify;">Thanks to Brent Bouma for his contribution to this post. Please email <a href="">Vito A. Pinto</a> with any questions.</p>

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