Submitted: October 23, 2013
Kevin G. Healy, Esquire, Morris James LLP, Newark, Delaware, Attorney for Plaintiff.
Gerald J. Hager, Esquire, Margolis Edelstein, Wilmington, Delaware, Attorney for Defendant.
PAUL R. WALLACE, J.
Plaintiff, Elizabeth Tilson, a ninety-nine year-old former resident of Luther Towers, a two-building assisted living center owned by Defendant Lutheran Senior Services ("LSS"), filed this premises-liability action after a bookcase in the library of Luther Towers II fell on top of her. Mrs. Tilson alleged that the bookcase was a hazardous condition which, because of LSS's failure to maintain and inspect it and to protect Luther Towers II residents, caused her injuries. Trial was held on May 29 and May 30, 2013, and the jury returned a verdict in Mrs. Tilson's favor in the amount of $155, 000.
LSS filed a Motion for New Trial on June 13, 2013, which was later amended. Plaintiff answered, and at the Court's request, LSS filed a reply brief addressing several specific questions posed. For the reasons stated herein, the Motion for New Trial is DENIED.
II. Factual Background
Mrs. Tilson testified at trial that on October 18, 2010, she went to the Luther Towers II library after dinner to straighten up books. Once finished with her task, she turned around with her walker, heard a noise, and realized the bookcase was falling down. When the bookcase fell, it knocked Mrs. Tilson to the ground, and she was pinned between the bookcase and the cement floor until someone responded to her calls for help. Mrs. Tilson testified that she heard a crack in her back when the bookcase fell on top of her.
Following the accident, emergency medical personnel transported Mrs. Tilson to Wilmington Hospital. She was examined there, but not admitted. In the following weeks, though, Mrs. Tilson suffered from a stiff back, and one night she was transported to St. Francis Hospital. Doctors then told Mrs. Tilson she had fractured her tailbone and required physical therapy. During her treatment, Mrs. Tilson suffered from muscle spasms and was unable to walk for a time. She testified that through continued therapies and home exercise, she has healed from her injuries, but she still experiences some pain.
John Teoli, LSS's Chief Executive Officer and Executive Director, testified that the bookcase in question was constructed of solid wood by a carpenter approximately 30 years prior to trial. Mr. Teoli also testified that he believed the bookcase had been in the same approximate location since he arrived at Luther Towers in November 2009, and that no one informed him of any prior issues with the bookcases. At the time of the accident in 2010, Mr. Teoli was unaware that the bookcase was not anchored to the wall. He testified he would have instructed his staff to anchor the bookcases in Luther Towers II if he had been aware they were freestanding.
III. Parties' Contentions
LSS has moved for a new trial on five separate grounds: (1) this Court erred in denying LSS's application for judgment as a matter of law based on Mrs. Tilson's alleged failure to prove proximate cause as an essential element of her case; (2) the Court erred in denying LSS's application for a mistrial after a plaintiff's witness mistakenly testified to subsequent remedial measures; (3) the Court should have sua sponte declared a mistrial after Mrs. Tilson's counsel, in closing, asked the jurors to imagine she were their own grandmother; (4) the Court should have declared a mistrial after Mrs. Tilson's counsel, in closing, suggested many new bookcases come with wall anchors; and (5) the Court erred by allowing into evidence photographs of bookcases from a library in Luther Towers I, when the incident occurred in Luther Towers II.
In response to LSS's motion, Mrs. Tilson argues that proximate cause was proven as part of her case-in-chief, and that any erroneous statements or witness miscues were cured by the Court's instructions. Mrs. Tilson also contends that LSS waived its right to object to statements alluding to Mrs. Tilson as the jurors' own grandmother when LSS failed to contemporaneously object to the error it now alleges. ...