Yeah, I think the most interesting one is, once I got a phone call from a lady. And she was being sued for rent possession. She’d fallen behind her rent, and they were suing to kick her out of her apartment and make her homeless. Now, I don’t handle those kinds of cases, but I thought, “Well, I wanna get some information from her,” so I could refer her to a lawyer that I knew could help her. Well, I got to talking to her, and I learned that the reason she couldn’t pay her rent was because she slipped on some ice on a sidewalk outside of her apartment, broke her leg, and was never able to return to work.
And her doctors told her that they didn’t expect her ever, ever to return to work. So I spent some more time talking to her. And I learned that what had happened is that she’d fallen during a snowstorm. She’d gone outside just to take her dog out to go to the bathroom in the morning. And she walked along the sidewalk, from her apartment down to the street. And she stepped on some ice underneath that snow, that had been created by a previous snowfall, where tenants walking back and forth to the apartment had made ridges, and then it froze into ice, and then this new snowfall came over on top and hid it.
Well, we all… I learned that the landlord would shovel snow out of the streets, on the sidewalk along the streets. But the sidewalk, from the street to the apartments, they wouldn’t. And that’s what created this dangerous condition. Now, we had to get around a law that says that landlords, if there’s snow that’s common to the entire area, they’re not responsible if anybody gets hurt on that. The conditions have to be different. So what we did is, we developed a legal theory that the conditions created by the people walking on the previous snowfall, creating the ice that got covered by snow, was not common to the area. It was created by their tenants.
And that the snow on on top of it, the new snow, eliminated any comparative or actual contributory fault. And we filed it, wound up filing a (slip and fall) counterclaim in that case, and wound up getting the lady a $1.2 million verdict. Now, the look on the landlord’s face when that verdict came back was worth every minute I spent preparing that case for trial [chuckle]. The look of shock on them, when they got held accountable for violating our safety rules. And sometimes I’ll drive through that neighborhood, those apartments. And I can guarantee you, those sidewalks are being shoveled now. They weren’t before, but they are now.
Did that require a lot of discovery on your part? ‘Cause it’s pretty interesting that you just figured out about the hidden layer of ice.
Well, it’s part legal discovery. We got the landlord’s records on what they did, and what they paid to have done. But the actual stuff, that takes some groundwork. We had to go knocking on doors, talking to other tenants, finding people, tradesmen who’d visit the area. And by doing that, we found… That’s when we got neighbors and other people here, even that would talk about the system, where they wouldn’t shovel that sidewalk from the apartment building to the actual street.
Defendants, in many of these cases, don’t like to give you that information. So they try and hide it back. So we had to develop other means to discover that. And that’s why sometimes, like in this particular case, we actually found a former employee, who was willing to come forward and talk about how these conditions existed, and it put the tenants at risk. And it’s more than just knowing the law. Most lawyers know the law. But it’s actually getting the people to come forward and tell you what the really true facts and the true story is. That’s the hard part, is getting people to come forward, and tell the real story. And that’s where we had to be creative. And this particular (slip and fall counterclaim) case, we were. We found them.