Falls on other peoples’ property are common, and litigation often ensues as injured people assign blame to faults in their surroundings and culpability to the owners. Biomechanical analysis can shed light on what initiated a particular fall and thereby help a jury decide whether responsibility lies with the property owner or the Plaintiff.
In 2004, Marina Schwartz, 51, wearing open-toed, open-heeled sandals, was out walking her dog in her Sunrise, Florida neighborhood. In front of a neighbor’s house, she tripped, stumbled, and fell, fracturing her left arm. Ms. Schwartz alleged that an uneven sidewalk on her neighbor’s property was the direct cause of her fall and brought suit accordingly.
The defendants sought representation by Carl W. Christy of Luks, Santaniello, Perez, Petrillo & Gold, Orlando, FL (http://www.ls-law.com). The firm retained Hayes+Associates, Inc, to analyze and reconstruct the fall.
A team at H+A analyzed Ms. Schwartz’ narrative of the incident, her medical records (including those from a surgery 43 days prior to the incident which carried a post-operative diagnosis of secondary vision loss), as well as depositions of Defendants and a neighbor/witness.
In their investigation, the H+A team took into consideration the unevenness of the sidewalk, the literature on post-trip recovery steps, and Schwartz’ description to a neighbor that: “I tripped over my own two feet”. The H+A team also considered the distance from the sidewalk imperfection to the location where Ms. Schwartz ended up after her stumble.
In every fall, the injuries sustained and position of rest can be seen as signatures to the fall. The distance between the sidewalk bump and Ms. Schwartz’ feet at her final rest position was 17 ft, far beyond where her feet would have come to rest had her fall been initiated by the uneven sidewalk.
Testimony by Wilson C. “Toby” Hayes, PhD, indicated that if the raised sidewalk had been the direct cause of her fall, Ms. Schwartz would have landed ten feet closer to the alleged tripping point and that she was “likely to have tripped over her own two feet at a point much closer to her final position of rest.”
The jury in the case concurred and found for the defense.
Hayes+Associates, Inc. (http://www.hayesassoc.com) is an expert witness and consulting firm, based in Corvallis, OR. The company brings more than 75 years of collective experience in academic research, university teaching and forensic testimony to practice areas that include vehicle collisions, premises safety, slips and falls, products liability, worker safety, sports and recreation, patent litigation and criminal matters.