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Newsletter > November 2009 > "VERDICT IN PHI DELTA CASE AT MISSOURI"
VERDICT IN PHI DELTA CASE AT MISSOURI
Tim Burke, Manley Burke, firstname.lastname@example.org
Falls from high places continue to be an important risk management issue.
In October of 2002, Katie Beetz was in attendance at a party at the Phi Delta Theta Chapter house in Columbia, Missouri. While on a cell phone, she went out a second floor fire door onto a fire escape platform and fell through the hole which provided a ladder access to the ground. She suffered significant injuries. Fortunately, the fall was only one story, but the injuries were still significant and the plaintiff continues to have migraine problems.
Seven years later, the trial of the suit she filed finally took place.
There had been an earlier fall through the same fire escape. While there was a dispute over who knew about that earlier fall, a hand-made sign had been posted on the interior of the fire escape door providing some warning. Following presentation of plaintiff’s case with 14 witnesses, the Phi Delta Theta Fraternity was dismissed as a witness. The case against the Phi Delta Theta Club, the owner of the house, ended in the jury’s hands following the presentation of three additional witnesses.
The liability of the club appears to have been a close call. The jury initially reported it was deadlocked. The Judge instructed the jury to continue deliberations and ultimately they delivered a verdict finding that the Phi Delta Theta club was 56% at fault and Beetz was 44% at fault. The jury awarded damages in the amount of $211,000.00. As a result of liability being proportioned based on the percentage of fault, the award was reduced by the Judge to $118,160.00.
The Beetz case has at least two lessons. First, when an incident creates knowledge of a dangerous condition, it is critical to act to address that condition so that it does not occur again. Second, the action taken to correct the dangerous condition needs to be appropriate to the situation. Evidently, the jury in Beetz wasn’t satisfied that taping a homemade paper sign to the door, which was sometimes up and sometimes not, was not adequate. A more appropriate action would have been to post a professionally made clear warning on the door that contained a specific warning of the hazard.