According to the ABA Journal.com, earlier this month, the Colorado Supreme court reversed a lower court’s determination that Wal-Mart Stores Inc. was entitled to a new trial, and approved a $10 million award to a truck driver who had to undergo multiple spinal surgeries as a result of the injuries she sustained after slipping and falling while making a delivery to a Wal-Mart store in Greeley, Colorado. According to Denver attorney Gregory Gold, who represented the plaintiff in the case, the award could be one of the highest slip and fall verdicts in the country.
As reported by TheDenverPost.com, this case began when Holly Averyt, a 41 year old truck driver, slipped and fell on ice and grease on December 13, 2007, as she delivered a load of food to a Wal-Mart store. TheDenverPost.com also reported that as a result of her fall, Averyt ruptured a disk in her back and had to undergo several surgeries, which left her unable to work. According to her attorney, after her fall in December, Averyt had to undergo three spine surgeries, one on her neck and two on her back. Also according to her attorney, because Averyt was unable to return to work, the truck that she lived in was repossessed, and she incurred about $500,000 in medical bills.
Gold, Averyt’s attorney, took her case to trial last year, and was successful in convincing a jury that Wal-Mart knew about the grease spill, did nothing to clean it up and then lied about it in court. According to TheDenverChannel.com, Gold presented city documents showing that some grease from the store’s deli didn’t get trapped in a device designed to keep it from getting into the sewer. He argued that the overflow caused a 185-foot slick of grease into the parking lot and the truck ramp area, which accumulated for seven days.
At trial, Gold claimed that the ramp to the store’s loading dock was covered with used cooking oil and other greases that Averyt she could not see. According to Gold, she tried to report the fall to a Wal-Mart employee who met her at the receiving door, but he refused to take her report. Although Wal-Mart denied that Averyt fell at the store and also denied that a grease spill ever occurred, Averyt’s lawyer presented evidence at trial that Greeley city officials had investigated a complaint about grease coming out of a manhole cover near the Wal-Mart building in the store’s parking lot. City inspectors who went to the Wal-Mart found a blockage in the store’s grease interceptors. According to TheDenverPost.com, a man who identified himself as the store manager said the problem had been going on for a week.
Averyt’s attorney was successful in proving her case, and the jury found that Wal-Mart had failed to use reasonable care to protect Averyt against a danger on its property. The jury awarded Averyt a total of $15 million dollars: $5.5 million in noneconomic losses, $4.5 million in economic losses, and $5 million for physical impairment.
Despite Averyt’s victory at trial, earlier this year, Senior District Judge William West granted Wal-Mart another shot at defending itself against the lawsuit. Judge West said that although Averyt’s counsel had evidence showing the grease spill took place, it didn’t turn that information over to the defense until after a Wal-Mart spokeswoman testified there never was a grease spill. Judge West determined that the plaintiff’s failure to disclose this information to the defense in a timely manner was unfairly prejudicial. Thus, Wal-Mart was entitled to a new trial.
However, fortunately for Averyt, Colorado’s supreme Court disagreed with the District Judge, overruled the Judge’s order that Wal-Mart was entitled to a new trial, and approved the jury’s verdict in favor of Averyt, albeit for a lesser amount (10 Million dollars) because of the state’s cap on economic damages. As a Georgia attorney who represents those who have been injured in slip and fall cases, I am glad that the Colorado Supreme Court saw fit to ensure the Holly Averyt received the compensation for her injuries that she so rightfully deserves.