Senior Citizen Settles For $1 Million After Hotel Fall
Norma Linke v. Heritage New London LLC et al.: A woman from St. Louis who shattered her elbow after falling in the lobby of a New London Holiday Inn has settled her lawsuit against the hotel ownership for $1 million.
Norma Linke, 77, was on a senior citizen sightseeing bus tour that stopped in Connecticut to check out Mystic. The group planned to spend a night in the New London area before continuing to another destination. On October 3, 2010, at around dinner time, Linke was checking into the Holiday Inn on North Frontage Road in New London when she tripped on some bunched up carpeting in the lobby.
According to Linke's lawyer, Joseph M. Barnes, of The Reardon Law Firm in New London, Linke, who had previously had knee replacement surgery on both knees, fell with all her weight onto her left arm. "[The elbow] was so broken; one of the doctors described the initial fracture as an asteroid field. The elbow was just shattered," said Barnes. "It was a very complicated break."
Linke was taken to Lawrence & Memorial Hospital. She spent the night there and boarded a plane back to St. Louis the next day. The bus tour continued on without Linke.
Barnes said Linke was further treated by doctors in St. Louis. In total, she ended up needing five surgeries.
During the first one, said Barnes, metal plates and screws were implanted to hold the elbow together. However, the fracture did not heal right. The doctors went back in, removed the hardware, re-broke the elbow, and then put the hardware back in to hold the elbow in place.
This time, Linke developed an infection. Treating it required yet another procedure that involved removing the hardware in September 2011. Linke then had to take medications to treat the infection.
Barnes said his client went 10 months with no functioning left elbow and her arm in a sling. Fortunately, Linke was right-handed.
Barnes said doctors described her condition using terms such as "flopping elbow or chicken wing."
"Other than tendons and skin, the brace was the only thing keeping it stable," said Barnes.
Finally on August 30, 2012, Linke had a complete elbow reconstruction surgery. Her left elbow joint was replaced with an artificial joint, Barnes said.
On Linke's behalf, Barnes filed a defective premises lawsuit in New London Superior Court against Heritage New London LLC, which was the group that owned the Holiday Inn. Barnes was able to prove that the hotel was aware of the problem with the lobby carpet and never did anything to remedy it.
Barnes discovered that the hotel had been making improvements to rooms, "focusing on areas that generated revenue for the hotel," but never remedied the lobby carpeting situation.
He explained that the corporation that owns Holiday Inn, as part of its license agreement with the local ownership group, had the ability to perform regular inspections of the property — both announced and unannounced — to ensure that the hotel met Holiday Inn's expectations and standards. Barnes discovered an inspection report dated December 16, 2009, which noted that the carpeting was loose in the entrance area.
A follow-up inspection in September 2010, just a few weeks prior to Linke's fall, also noted that the carpeting was still a problem and hadn't been fixed. One of the New London hotel's owners, Sunil Nayak, of New Jersey, testified during a deposition that he couldn't explain why the carpeting hadn't been fixed.
Barnes said while the lawsuit was pending, the hotel lost its licensing agreement with Holiday Inn. After renovations, the hotel reopened as a Clarion Inn.
Heritage New London was represented by Paul D. Meade, of Halloran & Sage, who did not return calls seeking comment last week.
Barnes said Meade argued contributory negligence, claiming that Linke was partially at fault for her injury. "They essentially claimed that if she kept a proper lookout this wouldn't have happened," said Barnes. "They also highlighted the fact that given her age, her life expectancy was 10 years, thereby diminishing compensation for her injuries."
Barnes said the two sides went to mediation before Superior Court Judge Emmet L. Cosgrove but were unable to reach a settlement. With the trial date fast approaching, Barnes flew to St. Louis three times in three weeks to depose Linke's doctors. The doctors did not want to fly to Connecticut for a trial. Barnes said their testimony was very helpful.
With the trial expected to take place this month, Linke flew from St. Louis to Connecticut with her daughter to attend jury selection. On the sixth day of jury selection, Barnes said the two sides reached a settlement for an even $1 million.
Barnes believes that his going to St. Louis for the depositions, and Linke traveling to Connecticut for jury selection, showed the defense how serious they were about going forward with the case. "I got the impression [the defense] didn't think we'd go down [to St. Louis] and push this case forward," said Barnes.
Barnes said Linke was "thrilled" with the settlement. The attorney added that if Linke was younger, the amount would have been far higher. However, Barnes still thinks he would have done well at trial, despite his client's age. "It was a significant injury and she's a likeable woman," said Barnes. "I think the jury would've related to her."
Despite her short stay in New London during the bus tour, during the jury selection process Linke got to see the area more than she ever expected. In the end, she told Barnes that "New London is a lovely city."
"She refused to let her one bad experience sway her opinion of that," Barnes said.•