Jury awards estate $85,000 for woman injured in fall
Rockland — A jury of nine awarded the estate of a deceased woman injured in a fall from a trap door $85,000 to cover medical bills and damages Oct. 16 in Knox County Superior Court.
The plaintiff, Mary E. Foisy, and the defendant, William Schmidt, both of Vinalhaven, have both died since the fall in May 2011. Foisy's death is unrelated to the injuries she sustained in the fall.
Foisy's attorney, Daniel Kagan of Lewiston, said the jury deliberated for about an hour. "They got it right," he said of their decision.
"The jury had a tough set of facts to consider. It takes mature and attentive citizens to separate the facts of the case and the fact that they are deceased," he said.
In opening statements Tuesday, Kagan, said a landlord is responsible for ensuring a house is reasonably safe before renting it.
Foisy, along with her friend, son and granddaughter were cleaning a house they were preparing to rent from Schmidt. The house, built in the 1870s, and renovated by Schmidt, included a master bedroom on the first floor with a closet connected to the bedroom.
Kagan said on May 27, Foisy was vacuuming inside the closet when she stepped on a trap door that led to the basement. The door was unable to hold her weight, and she fell. Foisy fractured four ribs and broke her wrist. She stayed in the hospital until June 6, and the injury required surgery to reset the bones in her wrist.
Schmidt was on the property when Foisy fell. He had previously removed a staircase under the trap door, so when Foisy fell, she fell to the basement floor.
The prosecution said Schmidt should have been aware the trap door was unsafe, and prevented Foisy from going in the closet. He also said Schmidt knew it was unsafe because he said in a statement the closet was unfinished and it was on his to-do list. Kagan said this constituted proceeding to trial. Kagan further asserted Schmidt did not have to rent the house, that he could have covered the trap door, locked the closet, or told Foisy about the door. He said these four actions could have saved the families from coming to trial.
The injuries Foisy sustained made it difficult for her to care for herself, and she was unable to continue doing activities she enjoyed, including needlework and operating a cleaning business. Six months after the fall, she had numbness in her fingers, but was able to use the woodstove and do dishes. Her medical costs totaled $51,000, and her harms and losses, although not crippling, were also not minor, said Kagan. He said it was up to the jury to assess the damages her estate should receive.
Defense attorney Jack Miller said the lawsuit asserts his client was negligent and failed to do something he should have done, and knew the hatch was defective or dangerous. He said there was no evidence or testimony to prove his client knew the hatch was dangerous, adding the plaintiff had not met its burden of proof.
"There was no reason to be concerned," Miller said.
He said Schmidt, a skilled carpenter, had worked on the house in stages for a period of five or six years. He said there was nothing to suggest the hatch was not secure — it fit properly and did not show cracks. He added there are questions the jury and lawyers will not be able to answer, as the principal people involved in the case are not alive.
He said testimony from witnesses differs, some contest Schmidt did show the closet to renters, and told them it could be used for storage, and others say he did not show them the closet before the fall.
Courier Publications' reporter Juliette Laaka can be reached at 594-4401 ext. 118 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
594-4401 ext. 118
Juliette primarily covers the cops and courts beat for The Courier-Gazette.
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