The V.I. Supreme Court has ordered a local supermarket and its landlord to pay $600,000 in liability damages from a 2008 incident in which a woman fell near an overflowing bucket of water left on the floor.
Lawyers representing the store and landlord challenged the amount awarded to the accident victim by a jury in Superior Court and disputed which of the two parties should pay which portion.
In their appeal, the supermarket and property owner asked the Supreme Court to throw out expert witness testimony.
Supreme Court Chief Justice Rhys Hodge and Associate Justices Maria Cabret and Ive Swan said the law as expressed in the Virgin Islands Code is clear on the apportionment of judgments. They also said the lower court was right to keep matters pertaining to a settlement reached prior to trial between the accident victim and the store’s landlord out of court proceedings.
The incident that led to the filing of a 2008 lawsuit by plaintiff Lenor Mercedes Palermo began as a negligence complaint against World Fresh Market, doing business as Pueblo Supermarket. The Supreme Court ruling did not specify which of the three Pueblo markets in the territory the incident occurred at.
Court documents say Palermo slipped and fell in an area where a bucket was left to catch water from a leaky roof. The complaint was later amended to add PDCM Associates, S.E. when lawyers for Palermo found out both the landlord and business operators knew the roof had been leaking for an extended amount of time.
Ten years later, in 2018, PDCM settled with Palermo and their portion of the lawsuit was dismissed with prejudice. A jury trial between Palermo and World Fresh took place in November 2019, resulting in a verdict declaring Pueblo liable and awarding the accident victim $600,000 in compensatory damages.
The supermarket’s owners appealed the case. Hodge, Cabret and Swan heard oral arguments in November 2020. Lawyers representing the store argued that it was up to the court to decide how much in damages were to be paid by either them or the landlord.
“Palermo, however, maintains that this court cannot adopt the rule proposed by World Fresh Market because to do so would effectively rewrite section 1451(d) and usurp the authority of the Legislature,” Hodge wrote in the court’s opinion filed on Feb. 4.
Justices ruled that the court, which interprets the law, and the Legislature, which enacts the law, are co-equal branches of government and have equal weights of authority. But the statute that dictates how apportionment of liability is to be handled clearly leaves it up to the trier of facts to “apportion in dollars and cents, the amount awarded against each defendant.”
The National Safety Council classifies slip and fall incidents along with tripping injuries and other incidents where falls occur. According to the information appearing on a website run by attorney Adam S. Kutner, Americans paid one million visits to emergency rooms in 2019 because of slip and fall accidents, resulting in $34 million in medical bills.