Shields Law Firm Secures $2.5 Million Verdict in Fall-Related Injury

Attorneys at The Shields Law Firm recently secured a $2.5 million award for a client who was injured in fall down broken steps at her rental unit. Although the landlords presented a sympathetic image to the jury, the plaintiff’s attorneys painted a full picture of their client’s injuries and prognosis for the jury, resulting in the award.

Wooden spiral staircase

ByDani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

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Updated on June 9, 2023

Wooden spiral staircase

Events and Allegations

In early 2019, the plaintiff was navigating the staircase in her rented home when she slipped on a broken step near the top of the staircase. She grabbed for the handrail, but it pulled free of the wall. The plaintiff landed at the bottom of the stairs with several injuries.

Medical tests and treatments revealed that the plaintiff had suffered injuries to her back and neck. Her worst injuries were focused in the pelvic area, however. They included an anal-vaginal fistula. Left untreated, this type of fistula prevents an individual from fully controlling their bowel movements. It also greatly increases the risk of infection by allowing fecal matter to intrude into the vaginal space.

The plaintiff underwent surgery to repair the fistula and address other damage in the pelvic area. Despite medical care, however, her injuries permanently impaired her ability to fully control her bladder and bowel movements – leading not only to permanent physical harm but also to ongoing embarrassment and shame.

Events in the Case

With the assistance of The Shields Law Firm, the plaintiff filed suit against her landlords. In the lawsuit, the plaintiff noted that she asked the landlords to fix the broken stairs before her injuries occurred, but the landlords did not do so.

The plaintiff’s expert witness was the physician who diagnosed and treated her condition. The expert specializes in pelvic reconstructive surgery of the type the plaintiff required.

The defendants also offered an expert witness to discuss whether the plaintiff’s injuries were caused by the fall. At trial, attorney Bill Shields focused on the fact that the defense’s expert hadn’t treated the plaintiff’s injuries. Ultimately, the defense expert was unable to rule out the fall as a cause of the plaintiff’s injuries.

The Jury’s Response

The jurors demonstrated a willingness to listen to all the facts presented and to sympathize with the plaintiff. In this case, the jurors also had reason to sympathize with the defendant landlords, who were individuals renting out a unit rather than a large property management company.

One element that may have allowed the jury to indulge its sympathies for the plaintiff is the presence of a high-low agreement. This agreement ensured that even if the jury found in favor of the defendants, the plaintiff’s major medical costs would be covered by insurance. If the jury found in favor of the plaintiff, the high-low agreement also allowed the jurors to award the maximum amount they believed appropriate without fear of leaving the defendants destitute.

The high-low agreement, therefore, freed the jury to listen to the facts and weigh the evidence, rather than worrying about how their decision might operate as a zero-sum game.

Key Takeaways for Attorneys

This case offers several valuable insights for injury attorneys. First, it underscores the value of high-low agreements. High-low agreements are an under-utilized tool in injury cases that can guarantee minimum levels of protection for both parties. High-low agreements can also help juries focus on offering a verdict that fits the facts, rather than one shaped by the jury’s fears about its future impact.

Second, attorneys can benefit from contextualizing the roles of expert witnesses, both in the lawsuit and in the larger context. Here, the plaintiff’s expert witness was also her treating physician. Plaintiff’s expert had been closely involved in her care nearly since the beginning. He had personally examined the patient, reviewed test results, and performed the plaintiff’s necessary surgery.

The defendants’ expert witness, by contrast, had no such firsthand knowledge. Defendants’ expert witness had reviewed the plaintiff’s medical records after the fact. While this perspective can give a useful overview of a patient’s situation, it cannot fully substitute for firsthand experience – a fact attorney Bill Shields focused on during cross-examination.

About the author

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D.

Dani Alexis Ryskamp, J.D., is a multifaceted legal professional with a background in insurance defense, personal injury, and medical malpractice law. She has garnered valuable experience through internships in criminal defense, enhancing her understanding of various legal sectors.

A key part of her legal journey includes serving as the Executive Note Editor of the Michigan Telecommunications and Technology Law Review. Dani graduated with a J.D. from the University of Michigan Law School in 2007, after completing her B.A. in English, summa cum laude, in 2004. She is a member of the Michigan State Bar and the American Bar Association, reflecting her deep commitment to the legal profession.

Currently, Dani Alexis has channeled her legal expertise into a successful career as a freelance writer and book critic, primarily focusing on the legal and literary markets. Her writing portfolio includes articles on diverse topics such as landmark settlements in medical negligence cases, jury awards in personal injury lawsuits, and analyses of legal trial tactics. Her work not only showcases her legal acumen but also her ability to communicate complex legal issues effectively to a wider audience. Dani's blend of legal practice experience and her prowess in legal writing positions her uniquely in the intersection of law and literature.

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