$2,750,000 – Fall in Lobby

A woman who said she suffered serious nerve damage in a slip and fall in her office lobby where five other falls had occurred in the previous four years will be paid $2.75 million in a global settlement with the building manager, a janitorial service, and a rug company.

According to court papers, Ellen Huber was initially diagnosed as having suffered an acute ankle sprain in the February 2004 fall. But an MRI scan showed damage to ligaments and a possible fracture of an ankle bone.

When Huber’s pain persisted for months and worsened, she was diagnosed as suffering from reflex sympathetic dystrophy (RSD), a chronic neurological disease in which the pain from an injury does not abate, but instead intensifies over time.

In court papers, Huber’s lawyers – Robert J. Mongeluzzi and Paul V. Bucci II of Saltz Mongeluzzi & Bendesky – said victims of RSD experience “a vicious cycle of pain.”

RSD, which is also known as complex regional pain syndrome, or CRPS, is an abnormal response in the sympathetic nervous activity at the site of an injury that results in inflammation, causing the blood vessels to spasm, leading to more swelling and pain.

Huber underwent arthroscopic surgery on her left ankle on Sept. 7, 2005, more than a year and a half after her fall, and later had a stimulator implanted to deal with her chronic and severe pain.

Bucci said the stimulator was supposed to interrupt nerve conduction of pain signals to Huber’s brain, but that it hasn’t worked effectively and, as a result, she still suffers from constant pain.

Although Huber attempted to return to work for a brief period of time after her fall, the severity of her pain forced her to quit her job as a provider relations specialist with Aetna Life Insurance Co.

“For all practical purposes, the effect of the injury is equivalent to an amputation of her lower left leg, but with the added trauma of constant, unrelenting pain,” the plaintiff’s lawyers wrote in court papers.

In her suit, Huber blamed three companies for the conditions that led to her fall – Grubb & Ellis Management Services, which provided overall facilities management of the building; Arthur Jackson Co., which provided janitorial and cleaning services; and Health Mats Co., the company that provided the configuration and replacement of mats every two weeks.

The suit alleged that the entrance area at Aetna’s offices in Blue Bell, Pa., had a long history of reported slip-and-fall incidents, including five other falls in the previous four years and one more a month after Huber’s fall.

“Clearly, the danger and potential hazard of slip and falls in this particular area was not only foreseeable by the defendants but well known,” the plaintiff’s lawyers alleged in court papers.

The suit claimed that, due to the high volume of pedestrian traffic, the floor surface of the entrance area was frequently known to be wet and slippery from people tracking water into the building during inclement weather.

After the seventh reported fall, the suit said, the size, width, and number of mats in the lobby were increased.

Mongeluzzi said the case went to mediation before Ronald Sherr of ADR Options, leading to settlements with two of the defendants, and that Arthur Jackson Co. settled when the case was about to go to trial.

In the settlement, Arthur Jackson Co. will pay $1.25 million; Grubb & Ellis will pay $1 million and Health Mats will pay $500,000.

According to court papers, Huber was demanding more than $10.8 million prior to the settlement talks.

Defense lawyers declined to comment on the settlement. Arthur Jackson was represented by Greg Voci of Baginski Mezzanotte; Grubb & Ellis was represented by Frederick C. Fletcher II of Swartz Campbell, and Health Mats was represented by Robert G. Kelly Jr. of Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin.

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