Jury Awards Over $5 Million to Man Injured in Storage Unit Collapse

A jury awarded more than $5 million to a man who suffered severe injuries when the ceiling of a rented storage unit collapsed on top of him, trapping him inside. The plaintiff in Wolkoff v. Sunshine Storage, Inc., et al, No. CACE09014543 (Fla. 17th Cir.), claimed that the defendants failed to construct the building correctly or to maintain it in good repair. The initial defendant, which owned and managed the building, claimed that the plaintiff was partly at fault for his injuries, as well as third-party defendants like the building contractor and the engineer. The jury apportioned fault among the parties, finding the plaintiff to be ten percent at fault. Unlike Maryland, which still follows the contributory negligence doctrine, this only meant a ten percent reduction of the damage award.

The plaintiff, a retired contractor living in Boca Raton, Florida, rented a storage unit in Deerfield Beach. He switched the lease to a larger unit, and on January 3, 2009, he was moving the contents out of the smaller unit and into the larger one. While he was standing in the smaller unit, the metal roof collapsed, trapping the then-66 year-old under about 3,000 pounds of debris.

The plaintiff was an avid bodybuilder, but the accident put an end to that. His injuries included a fractured pelvis, ruptured urethra, and nerve damage in both of his legs. He sought treatment at Johns Hopkins in Baltimore, Maryland to repair his pelvis and his urethra. Because of the damage to his pelvis, he had to use a colostomy bag for about three years. He lost his sight in one eye and became partially blind in the other. He developed multiple infections in his legs and feet, and is now vulnerable to additional infection. After extensive rehabilitation, he still requires the use of a walker or wheelchair. Many of these conditions are irreversible.

He filed suit in Broward County Circuit Court, alleging that the building did not conform to applicable building codes or sound engineering practices. The defendant denied that it was negligent, choosing instead to throw the general contractor and engineer under the proverbial bus by adding them as defendants and claiming that they were at fault for the building’s condition. It also alleged that the plaintiff was partly at fault, accusing him of removing load-bearing wooden beams from the walls of the storage unit.

The case went to trial in November 2013. The jury found that the plaintiff was ten percent at fault for the accident, and that each defendant was thirty percent at fault. It calculated the plaintiff’s damages at $5,656,000, including $3.2 million for past medical expenses, $1.75 million for future medical expenses, $250,000 for past pain and suffering, and $256,000 for future pain and suffering. The remaining $200,000 was awarded to the plaintiff’s wife for loss of consortium. Because of the comparative negligence finding, the court reduced the damage award to $5,091,000.

The premises liability attorneys at Lebowitz & Mzhen help people in the Washington, DC area recover damages for injuries they have suffered due to others’ negligent or unlawful conduct. Please contact us today online or at (800) 654-1949 to schedule a free and confidential consultation to see how we can assist you.

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