Plaintiff wins $200,000 for fall in Georgia animal clinic

A woman who fell and broke her leg while carrying her tiny Chihuahua out of a northeast Georgia veterinary hospital has won a $200,000 verdict in Franklin County Superior Court.

Plaintiff Sharon Truax had come in to have her dog Sissy's nails trimmed on March 20, 2008. It was their first visit to a "newly constructed building" for the vet clinic, according to the plaintiff's summary in the consolidated pretrial order, and Truax was not familiar with the layout of the building. She stayed in the waiting room for Sissy, who was tiny enough to be handed over the counter.

Truax was instructed to leave through a side entrance that required her to walk down a hallway and around a corner where a heavy, large animal scale was located. She caught her toe on the scale and fell, breaking her leg.

"When she fell on her knee, it snapped her thigh," said plaintiff's attorney Kevin M. Elwell of Farah & Farah in Brunswick, who tried the case along with Bruce A. Maxwell of Johnson & Ward. Elwell said his client, now 62, had previously had knee replacement surgery, so the injury was particularly painful. She also struck her head and blacked out. When she awoke in the hospital later, "someone had to tell her" what had caused her fall, Elwell said.

"She has 11 screws in her leg and a plate holding the bone together—all permanent," Elwell said. "She has pain when she flexes her leg. The screws rub around. She has trouble getting into a car. She can't do her own housework or go on long walks."

The plaintiff's medical expenses totaled $73,000, Elwell said. The rest of the verdict was for pain and suffering.

The Chihuahua was not injured in the fall.

The defense attorney, John A. Dickerson of McClure, Ramsay, Dickerson & Escoe in Toccoa, was retained by the clinic's insurance company, State Farm. Dickerson said he could not comment on the case or the verdict.
Elwell said the defense made no settlement offers. The plaintiff made a pretrial demand for $300,000. The insurance policy limit is $1 million, Elwell said.

"The defendant contends that the plaintiff could have avoided the fall if she had been observant to her surroundings because the scale was in an open and obvious location," the defense portion of the pretrial order states.

However, the plaintiff argued that the scale wasn't obvious from the direction from which Truax was walking because of a corner. Truax's attorney also suggested the clinic could have corrected the problem with the simple addition of a knee wall barrier to keep people from walking around the corner into the scale. Elwell provided the jury with a diagram of his suggested fix, which he estimated would cost $40.

The clinic said in its part of the pretrial order, "The plaintiff alleges that the scale caused her to trip and fall. However, she admits that she could have seen the scale had she been looking at the floor. At the time of the accident, no one had ever tripped or complained of tripping over the scale. The scale has not been moved from its location since the plaintiff's accident and no one else has tripped on it."

The defense also suggested Truax might have a vision problem. "At the time of the fall, the plaintiff was wearing bifocals, which had been prescribed to her in 2005," the defense summary states. "She was also carrying the dog in her left arm."

Elwell argued that it would not be unusual for someone to be carrying a dog when exiting a vet clinic.

"We survived summary judgment," Elwell said, noting that Northern Judicial Circuit Chief Judge John H. Bailey Jr. denied the defense motion for summary judgment. "They did not make a motion for a directed verdict at the close of our evidence."

The trial took two days, Elwell said. The jury deliberated for about three hours before returning the verdict on Nov. 8.


This article was published on November 18 in The Daily Report, an online publication for lawyers. The name of the clinic was omitted for this publication.


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