A Las Vegas woman was awarded about $13 million in the lawsuit she filed against Lowe’s Home Centers after she fell at one of the company’s stores in July 2013.
Attorneys for both sides made closing statements Thursday and the verdict was returned Friday in favor of the plaintiff, who fractured her skull in the fall and permanently lost her senses of taste and smell because of a related brain injury.
Kelly Hendrickson, a 38-year-old mother of three, was looking at palm trees in the garden center of a Lowe’s home improvement store at 5050 S. Fort Apache Road about three years ago when she slipped on a “slimy, wet substance” draining from the bottom of several planters, she told a jury April 7.
The woman said since the fall, in which she suffered a skull fracture and a hemorrhage at the front of her brain, she has suffered chronic neck pain and headaches, increased anxiety and depression, issues with balance and has forever lost her senses of taste and smell.
Hendrickson’s legal team asked a jury on Thursday for $40.6 million for the woman’s medical expenses, lost earning capacity and physical and mental pain and suffering.
Lowe’s attorney Esther Holm questioned the severity of Hendrickson’s injuries and recalled two doctors’ testimonies that she was healthy enough to be trained in a new job that didn’t require driving.
Sean Claggett, one of Hendrickson’s attorneys, asked the jury to imagine what the next 41 years for his client will be like, “being a burden on her kids, not being the wife she should be to her husband,” and not being able to pursue her passion of driving a school bus because of her injuries.
Another of Hendrickson’s attorneys, Al Lasso, said his team would have asked for a nine-figure amount in punitive damages in hopes that the large amount would get the attention of Lowe’s, which nets $3.6 billion a year, he said.
The jury decided Lowe’s was not guilty of implied malice and declined to award punitive damages.
Claggett argued in closing that Lowe’s track record for falls — he counted 28 falls at the valley’s 13 stores between 2008 and 2013 — should have prompted the company to install drains or change their watering procedures. In addition to their negligence in leaving water on the ground, he said, the company’s yellow safety cone was not in plain sight when Hendrickson fell.
Holm used estimated store traffic to reason that the odds of slipping and falling at a Lowe’s are one in a million in a year. She also said Hendrickson should have seen the cone warning her that the floor was wet because she knocked it over when she fell.
“Is it acceptable, is it reasonable to ignore our surroundings and then blame others when you get hurt, because you don’t heed the warnings?” Holm asked the jury. “She fell right on top of it — you can’t get any closer than that.”
Claggett reminded the jury that a Lowe’s employee erased video surveillance that might have caught Hendrickson’s fall.
Although deleting the footage was a mistake, Holm countered, the cameras in the garden center were facing a wall in the gardening center and wouldn’t have shown Hendrickson’s fall.
The jury returned a verdict that found Lowe’s 80 percent negligent and Hendrickson 20 percent negligent and awarded Hendrickson $13.14 million for medical expenses, lost earnings and pain and suffering. They will also pay Hendrickson’s attorneys’ fees, Claggett said.
“This jury says, ‘Well if you hurt one of our community citizens, you will pay and you’re not going to get away with it,’” Claggett said after the verdict was read. “Hopefully, this was enough of a message that they’re going to change their policy.”
Holm declined to comment on the verdict.
Contact Kimber Laux at email@example.com or 702-383-0283. Find her on Twitter: @lauxkimber