Code Violations at Apartment Building

Synopsis

Facts & Allegations

Around 9 a.m. on Jan. 14, 2012, plaintiff Kendra Staedler, 36, a bartender/office manager, fell on the exterior front stairs of a four-unit apartment building in Noe Valley, San Francisco. Staedler had no memory of what happened prior to the fall. As a result, she could not say what caused the fall, how she fell, why she fell or specifically where she fell. The biomechanical engineers for both sides were able to agree on the general area on the stairs where the fall began. The area was somewhere around where there is a transition from the higher wooden stairs to the lower brick stairs. They were also able to agree that the fall happened as a result of Staedler's right leg being planted on one wooden stair and her left leg missing at least one, and likely two, stairs, causing her to come down with her full weight on her straightened left leg on a brick stair resulting in a fracture to her left knee.

Staedler sued Galu Realty, LLC, the real estate management company for the building, as well as the Estate of Dominic T. Galu, Sr., the deceased owner of the building. She alleged premises liability and violations of the Building Code. Specifically, the straight staircase that leads from the front door of Staedler's apartment to the sidewalk is comprised of the bottom three stairs made of brick and the remaining staircase made of painted wood. The wood stairs have a wooden handrail and the brick stairs have a separate metal handrail, instead of one continuous handrail. The stairs slope slightly down, the treads are 10″ instead of 11″, the rise and the run of the stairs are not completely uniform, and the lower stairs have the paint worn from the nosing of the treads. Plaintiff contended that the non-continuous handrail, coupled with the downward sloping, short treads and irregular rise and run of the stairs, caused the fall. All of these problems exist at the area where the biomechanical engineers agreed the fall initiated. Plaintiff was unable to find any prior complaints, injuries or notice of violations about the staircase at the property where the fall happened. She was also unable to find any prior complaints, injuries or notice of violations for staircases at any of defendants' other properties.

Defendants argued that the fall happened as a result of Staedler's own negligence. Defense also contended that the longtime tenants in the other units, including a family with young children and an older tenant, had never complained or had trouble with the staircase at this property. The defense pointed out that Staedler had managed to move her furniture into the apartment without a problem or complaint. Further, no tenants at any time had ever complained of having difficulty with or concerns about the stairs, and they had never had reports of people actually falling on the stairs in the 56 years they had owned the property.

Injuries/Damages: fracture, tibial plateau; fracture, knee

Staedler was taken by ambulance to San Francisco General Hospital immediately after her fall. She suffered a bicondylar tibial plateau fracture which injured her anterior tibial artery, she developed compartment syndrome, requiring fasciotomies and external fixation, she had follow-up surgery for wound debridement, and eventually open reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) whereby hardware was installed in her knee to keep her leg together and provide support. During the fall, her front tooth broke off and went through her upper lip, she broke her nose, and suffered two black eyes, a slight concussion, and a swollen spinal cord. She also damaged her left shoulder, broke her clavicle and suffered a bulging disk and lumber facet arthropathy.

A number of surgical procedures were performed to save function in the left leg. Ms. Staedler received external fixation of her left bicondylar tibial plateau fracture and decompression fasciotomies. This entailed inserting pins to an external device to keep the leg straight and allow the bones to heal, as well as cutting open the skin to relieve the pressure caused by the compartment syndrome. X-rays revealed that Ms. Staedler had a dislocated left shoulder and a clavicle fracture. Her shoulder was relocated, and her left upper extremity was placed in a splint. Ms. Staedler had 21-40 centimeters of skin debrided, partial closure of her fasciotomies and wound vacuum-assisted closure (VAC). Dr. Kandemir once again irrigated Ms. Staedler's wound, debrided subcutaneous tissue, repaired a 20 cm fasciotomy wound and adjusted the external fixator. Dr. Kandemir then performed the open-reduction and internal fixation (ORIF) and installed nearly 21 screws in Ms. Staedler's leg.

Ms. Staedler was transferred on February 13 to a rehabilitation center on a different floor of SFGH. There she continued to receive physical therapy and observation for her injuries. By mid-March, she was released and returned home. From March 19 through April 11, 2012, she received in-home assistance from Health at Home care givers. Health at Home provided care givers with different expertise to serve Ms. Staedler's particular needs, including a medical social worker, physical therapist, occupational therapist, nursing assistant, and home health aide. These care givers helped Ms. Staedler fulfill basic activities of daily living, including bathing, dressing, using the restroom, eating, and exercising. Health at Home informed Ms. Staedler that they would only be able to provide assistance for 30 days, after which she would be on her own.

Subsequently, relegated to a wheelchair and dependent on others for assistance, Ms. Staedler decided to stay with friends temporarily until she was able to take care of herself, along with periodic checkups at SFGH. Uninsured and unable to pay for additional treatment, she has been taking care of her own physical therapy since mid-2012, exercising to lose weight and regain strength in her leg.

Ms. Staedler was unable to work for an entire year. Starting in February 2013, she began working one day a week as a bartender at one of her previous employers. She is unable to work more as a bartender due to the physical limitations imposed by her injured leg. She works as a manager at a different bar, and in that job she earns considerably less than she earned before her fall.

Result

The jury apportioned a liability of 40 percent to Staedler, 10 percent to the Estate of Dominic T. Galu and the remaining 50 percent to Galu Realty. The jury awarded Staedler $2,102,161.10. After apportionment, her award will be $1,261,296.66.