Price Benowitz Wins $5 Million Premises Liability Case Against United States

Price Benowitz has recently obtained a $5,000,000.00 judgment against the United States. Our team consisted of Arren Waldrep as the lead trial attorney, and John Yannone who assisted her in pre-trial preparation and motions. Hunter Rahn, one of our great litigation paralegals, did an incredible job with preparation and throughout the length of this trial. Stephanie Johnson and Anna Walker defended the U.S. in this premises liability case.

Premises Liability Explained

Premises liability is a section of that law that specifically involves personal injury claims resulting on someone’s property. While property owners are not necessarily responsible for every instance in which an individual is injured on their property, premises liability law outlines the various circumstances that would open them up to liability should an injury occur on their land or in their buildings. More specifically, premises liability law solidifies the exact duties property owners have to the individuals on their property.

Additionally, it establishes the various forms of compensation injured parties can receive as a result of an accident on the owner’s property. To prove a premises liability claim and receive damages, you must prove each of the following elements:

  1. The defendant (or opposing party) owned or occupied the property
  2. The defendant breached their duty of care
    1. This differs based on the status of the individual present and whether they were an invitee, social guest, or trespasser
  3. The plaintiff (you) suffered an injury as a direct result of the defendant’s negligence

With this in mind, we can move on to what exactly happened in this case to warrant a $5,000,000 judgment.

The Case: Plaintiff vs the National Park Service

The case arose when the Plaintiff was driving his vehicle on Beach Drive in Rock Creek Park when a large tree fell onto his vehicle, trapping him inside. It was a miracle that he survived. Several officers and around 20 good Samaritans were needed to lift the heavy tree off the vehicle. After being retrieved from his vehicle, the Plaintiff was transported for emergency treatment with multiple life-threatening injuries to his head (specifically a pontine stroke) and spinal cord. The Plaintiff underwent multiple surgeries and spent a significant amount of time in in-patient rehabilitation at the MedStar National Rehabilitation Hospital. While the Plaintiff is a long way from where he was in the immediate aftermath of the incident, he will never have the same quality of life he had before the incident. Expert testimony was presented as to the permanency of the Plaintiff’s incident-related injuries and symptoms, his need for future incident-related treatment, and his inability to work for the rest of his life.

On the liability side, the basic argument was that the National Park Service (NPS) should have identified the subject tree as hazardous and taken action to abate the hazard. There was evidence that Park Service employees did a drive-by inspection in the area of the subject tree in the weeks before the incident but did not identify the tree as hazardous. Arren, with the help of the Plaintiff’s liability expert, Lew Bloch, was able to establish that there was visible evidence that the subject tree was decaying before the incident.

Given that there was visible evidence of decay, Mr. Bloch testified that:

  • NPS should have seen the decay
  • A higher level of inspection should have been triggered
  • That higher level of inspection would have confirmed the tree had significant decay
  • Action should have been taken to remove the tree since it was in a high-risk area next to Beach Drive

The Result: A Comprehensive Damages Award for the Plaintiff

Ultimately, the judge sided with the Plaintiff, deciding that the United States was negligent in maintaining their property, substantially injuring the Plaintiff in the process. As a result, the Plaintiff was awarded the entirety of their requested economic damages and an additional $4,000,000.00 in non-economic damages. In total, the settlement amounted to $5,000,000.00.

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