Schultz vs. Tri-Carr, Inc.

Bryan David Caulfield

Case Conclusion Date:September 18, 2006

Practice Area:Personal Injury

Outcome:Subsequent Fraud Finding and $400,000.00 Recovery

Description:Premises Liability Fall into Service Pit at Oil Change Business Results in Jury Verdict, Subsequent Fraud Finding and $400,000.00 Recovery Premises liability fall into pit at an oil change facility - Defendant's fraud uncovered post trial leading to larger award and sanctions. Our client had spent a career in the military teaching Navy personnel how to fight fires on ships. He then retired to Florida. A lifetime of smoking took a serious toll on his health and he spent 12-18 hours a day on oxygen. During his time away from his oxygen machine he drove his car to a local oil change facility. This facility was run by a father and his two sons. After defendant employees directed him to drive into the facility, our client joined the technician in front of his car and began to converse with the employee as the employee changed the oil in the vehicle. Another car pulled into the service bay next to my client. This caused the employee to move to the other service bay to direct the other vehicle where to stop and to take the customer's service order. My client walked around the driver's side of his vehicle towards the rear of his car. He fell into the uncovered portion of the service pit that was not covered by the rear of his auto. This fall caused him to fracture his hip, requiring surgery. A final presuit offer of $25,000.00 was rejected and the case proceeded into a lawsuit. My Client died shortly thereafter of unrelated causes and the case proceeded without him, his son was substituted as the party Plaintiff. During discovery, Plaintiff determined that both “service pits” were uncovered despite the fact that the defendant was well aware of the existence of pit covering devices. Plaintiff uncovered the fact that the defendant had visited competing business and seen various pit covering devices in use. Plaintiff also established that defendant received and read National Lube and Oil News, a trade publication that featured multiple ads each month for various pit covering devices. Plaintiff obtained 5 years worth of back issues and presented them to the jury. In addition Plaintiff obtained the first person in the United States to discover and patent the “Pit Guard” covering device to serve as one of his experts. He also obtained a safety expert to criticize the practice of having the customer drive the vehicle in and to leave a portion of the service pit open behind the vehicle when the car was at rest and not warn the Plaintiff. Plaintiff was prevented from calling a Jiffy Lube employee as an additional expert and from showing that the defendant had committed a clear OSHA violation by leaving the floor opening uncovered. The court ruled OSHA only applied to employees not customers. Most importantly, Plaintiff uncovered some evidence that there had been a previous fall into a service pit at the business. One of the sons testified to this and referred Plaintiff to his father and brothers who were supposedly witnesses to the fall. Despite Plaintiff's multiple efforts to uncover the facts surrounding the fall, the defendant resisted. They claimed they had no further information regarding the fall, that the person was not injured, and did not make a claim, and they had no information to establish their prior insurer. They further claimed that this unknown person, who was not injured, left the business under their own power. Over the corporation's objection, Plaintiff demanded that they produce the persons most knowledgeable at the corporation regarding this alleged fall. The defendant was ordered to do so, over objection, but sent only one witness to repeat their denials and/or lack of knowledge regarding the fall. The defense offered less than the costs of the case. Despite the absence of the actual client, Plaintiff persisted and tried the case. The defendants argued the accident was unforeseeable and that Plaintiff was responsible for his own injury. The