Injured Recreational Basketball Player Represented by John Naizby Nets $4.4M After Fall on Basketball Court
A man who fractured his right ankle after slipping on water on a basketball court at a Stamford gym was awarded $4.4 million by a jury.
Rene Rodriquez, 36, was playing basketball before work with a coworker at about 7:40 a.m. on the morning of March 10, 2008 at the L.A. Fitness on Sixth Street in Stamford. As Rodriguez chased down a rebound that came off of the rim, he stepped in a puddle of water the size of a personal pizza, which had formed around the three-point line. Rodriguez’s left foot slid when it hit the moisture, causing him to fall backward onto his right leg and ankle. While lying there in pain and waiting to be taken to the hospital, Rodriguez observed one or two drops of water come down from the ceiling and land on the court, in the area of the puddle. A coworker saw the falling drops as well. Rodriguez has incurred roughly $125,000 in medical bills since he fractured his right ankle from the fall. According to his lawyer, John F. Naizby, of Marcarelli-Naizby in Madison, Rodriguez has needed three surgeries on the ankle so far and may need an ankle fusion surgery in the future. Rodriguez, a sales manager at Greenwich Honda, knew of a lawyer, Ron Cheung, through work. Cheung, a New York and Connecticut licensed attorney, had come in to purchase a car for his wife about 18 months before the statute of limitations for any claim that Rodriguez might file was going to run out.
Cheung, who specializes in transactions, referred the case to Naizby who filed a lawsuit against both L.A. Fitness International LLC, a workout chain and U.B. Stamford L.P., which owned the building. The lawsuit alleged negligence against the defendants for allowing the floor to remain in a slippery and unsafe condition and for failing to warn health club member of the hazard or to clean it up. If the defendants didn’t know about the puddle, the lawsuit states, they should have. But the defense lawyers said their clients had no knowledge of the puddle, and couldn’t be held liable for Rodriguez’s injury. Naizby explained that the state of the law in this kind of case can be frustrating. Even though the health club and the property owner had knowledge of ongoing leaks for years on the basketball court, he still had to prove that this particular puddle had existed for long enough that they should have found it and known about it. Defense Lawyers relied on the testimony of a janitor who claimed to dry mop the basketball court every morning: but the janitor couldn’t recall specifically mopping the court the morning of Rodriguez’s injury. Another witness claimed the janitor’s performance of mopping the basketball court was inconsistent. According to the witness, “you would be lucky if it was done twice a week.” The janitor’s supervisor also testified that she “had to go after” the janitor about mopping the floor in the weeks leading up to Rodriguez’s injury. Rodriguez’s doctor testified that Rodriguez couldn’t go up and down stairs without turning sideways because of his bad right ankle. Despite being in his mid-30’s, he walks with a permanent limp and his doctors characterize his ankle as being in the condition of a man in his 60s or 70s. His doctor claims Rodriguez is no longer able to enjoy running, playing basketball, salsa dancing or playing outside with his children. He sometimes needs to wear a brace and must ice his ankle at day’s end to reduce inflammation.
After just a couple hours of deliberating, the Stamford jury ultimately decided that the gym should have known about the puddle on the basketball court. The plaintiff was awarded $4.4 million, of which $4 million was for noneconomic damages. Of the verdict amount, according to the jury, L.A. Fitness is on the hook for 65% of it and U.B. Stamford L.P. is responsible for 35 percent. L.A. Fitness filed post-verdict motions in an effort to reduce the verdict amount or overrule the jury’s verdict. Through their attorney, Joseph Mascaro, of Morrison Mahoney LLP in Hartford, they argued that the verdict award was much higher than those awarded in similar personal injury cases in southwest Connecticut. However, Judge Trial Referee Alfred Jennings, in Stamford Superior Court, pointed out that the other ankle injury cases involved plaintiffs who were much older. In contrast, Rodriguez has a significantly longer life expectantly. Ultimately, Jennings reduced the economic damages from $400,000 to $290,123, but denied the defense motion for a directed verdict and to set aside the verdict. “The jury’s award was very generous, certainly at the very high range of just compensation, but the size of a damage award alone is not grounds for setting it aside in ordering a remittitur,” Jennings wrote in his recent post-verdict motion ruling. According to Naizby, the verdict has not yet been fully paid but he estimates that when factoring in the offer-ofcompromise interest and post-judgment interest, the gross recovery should be in the neighborhood of $4.7 million. Naizby recently met his client and attorney Cheung for lunch. “I am happy to have helped provide Rene and the Rodriguez family with some financial security after this avoidable life changing injury,” said Naizby when reporting the verdict to the Law Tribune. “I also consider myself lucky to count both Ron Cheung and Rene Rodriguez as close friends.”
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