Nicoletti, Gonson, Spinner, LLP

Jerome Smith v. U-Haul Co. of New York & Vermont, Inc., Supreme Court, New York County, Index No. 100088/09

In April 2013, in New York State Supreme Court, New York County, Partner, Kevin Pinter & Associate, Christine Vetter defended U-Haul Co. of New York & Vermont, Inc. (“UHNY&VT”) at trial in an action stemming from a customer’s fall from a ladder at the Chelsea, NY U-Haul facility located on W. 23rd ST., in Manhattan, NY.

Plaintiff, a 47 year old customer of the Chelsea U-Haul storage facility since 2000, alleged that on October 25, 2008, he fell from a ladder when it “rocked” and “tilted” as he descended the ladder after accessing his storage unit “2310”, located on the second floor of the subject premises. UHNY&VT provided various rolling “mobile ladders” for its customers to access storage units located on the second and third levels of the Chelsea facility. Plaintiff claimed that the subject ladder was dangerous and not properly maintained, since it was missing the rubber “boots” or “caps” that were supposed to be in place on the ladder’s 2 front legs. Plaintiff further claimed that the ladder’s “lock-step” brake mechanism was not functioning properly, and that the ladder’s instruction / warning plates had been obliterated due to years of use, such that same were not legible at the time of the accident. Plaintiff’s expert CSP further testified that the subject ladder was in violation of applicable ANSI standards, and that the ladder was not reasonably fit for its intended use at the time of the accident.

UHNY&VT argued that the ladder was reasonably fit for its intended use, and that the condition of the ladder had nothing whatsoever to do with the cause of plaintiff’s fall. UHNY&VT introduced the testimony of its GM of the facility, who testified that on the date of the incident, Smith reported to her simply that he had slipped and fallen off the ladder. UHNY&VT further introduced an incident report completed by plaintiff two days after the accident, wherein plaintiff merely claimed to have slipped, lost his balance and fallen off the subject ladder, wherein he made no mention of any movement of the ladder whatsoever. UHNY&VT argued that since the version of plaintiff’s fall involving the rocking and tilting of the ladder only materialized years after the accident in depositions, and was in direct contradiction with the accident report plaintiff completed two days after the accident, plaintiff was not credible in describing his fall at deposition or at trial. UHNY&VT’s expert engineer further testified that the ladder was reasonably fit for its intended use, that the “lock-step” was functioning properly, and that the missing rubber “boots” did not contribute to any instability in the ladder.

As a result of the fall, plaintiff sustained a severe right ankle fracture, initially requiring open reduction and internal fixation, and further requiring two (2) additional surgical procedures, including a failed ankle fusion surgery. Plaintiff had developed osteomyelitis, at least partially due to his failure to follow medical advice, and his doctors were recommending a below the knee amputation due to the bone infection.

After a trial on liability only, and jury deliberations of approximately one hour and 15 minutes, the jury returned a defense verdict on April 5, 2013.