Supermarket Hazard Results in $5M Verdict
A Virginia woman, who suffered traumatic brain injury while shopping for groceries in 2006, was awarded $5 million in damages on January 31, 2013 by a 12-member jury in Virginia Circuit Court.
Ella Cousins, who was 64 at the time of the negligent mishap, was successfully employed and enjoyed life – especially family time. Then came that fateful day in 2006, when she was pushing a shopping cart along a neighborhood grocery aisle and was struck by an overloaded dolly stacked-high with merchandise looming well above the head of the female Food Lion employee handling the load.
The collision resulted in traumatic brain injury, which reduced the intellectual potential of Cousins, a college graduate, to a mere 69 IQ (intelligence quotient) points, ranking her impairment in the severe to profound range. Cousins now requires around-the-clock care, primarily handled by her daughter and granddaughter.
Cousins' medical expenses have grown to $211,000, with lifetime care expected to top-out at $2.6 million. A pre-trial settlement offer of $1.25 million was rejected by the plaintiff in 2009. The jury then rejected Cousins' personal injury claim, placing the blame on her.
Attorneys defending Food Lion were allowed to enter poor-quality photographs from the store's security camera into evidence at the 2009 trial. On appeal, Cousins' attorneys successfully argued that stilled photos were spaced in a manner that did not accurately depict whether Cousins could have avoided the grocery aisle impact.
The Virginia Supreme Court voted 4-2 in 2012 to reverse the 2009 jury verdict, remanding the case for a new trial pursuant to Cousins v. Food Lion, LLC (VLW 012-6-043) (unpublished). The basis for the order was that photos presented by the defense were not date and time stamped and, therefore, lacked proper foundation since this proof was pivotal to validating the photographic evidence.
Each of the trials was presided over by the Honorable Walter J. Ford, a retired circuit judge, whose identical rulings at the 2006 and 2013 trials admitted the photos into evidence. During the 2013 trial, rather than objecting to the photos, Cousins' attorneys embraced the photos and found a way to use the grainy images to her advantage.
Although Food Lions' lawyers admitted negligence, liability hinged upon whether Cousins was aware the stock cart presented a hazard. The plaintiff's counsel successfully proved that Cousins had no way of knowing such an injurious situation lurked in her neighborhood grocery aisle that day.
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