Brenda K. (fictitious name), a 76-year-old married artist, fell down a dark staircase at night at a retreat center in rural Marin County where she was attending a weekend conference. There were no witnesses to the fall and she was found by other guests who heard her cries for help after she landed close to the bottom of the staircase.
Although there were serious issues with proving negligence and causation, our discovery showed that lighting on the stairs was less than the minimum required by the building code and one of the handrails of the stairs did not extend to the bottom of the staircase, which was also a code violation and would have contributed to her falling while descending the stairs in the dark.
Brenda was airlifted by helicopter ambulance to John Muir Hospital in Walnut Creek where she was hospitalized from February 21 to April 13, 2009. She was diagnosed as a C6 quadriplegic and underwent fixation of fractures at the C4/C5 level in her neck; laminectomy surgeries of the C3 through C7 levels; and implantation of surgical rods and hardware from C4 to C6. She was transferred to California Pacific Medical Center where she stayed from April 13 to June 5, 2009.
Brenda’s medical expenses, which were paid by Medicare, were approximately $490,000. The retreat center had an insurance policy of $3 million. Senior Counsel Mark Fong, Partner Dale Minami and co-counsel Steve Cavalli settled her claim for damages and her husband’s claim for loss of companionship and services for $2.9 million.