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Basketball Court Puddle Leads to $4.4 Million Jury Award

Some might call it an early start to March Madness - a thirty-something recreational hoops player who broke his ankle when he slipped on the basketball court at L.A. Fitness of Stamford, Conn., has had the bulk of his $4.4 million jury award upheld by a Stamford Superior Court judge.

According to the Connecticut Law Tribune, Rene Rodriguez was 36 in March 2008 when he slipped in a roughly 10-inch-diameter puddle of water while chasing down a rebound. Rodriguez testified that while he awaited an ambulance, he observed one or two drops of water come down from the ceiling and land on the court in the area of the puddle. A co-worker who had been shooting hoops with him testified that he also saw the falling drops. Rodriguez has since endured three surgeries (his lawyer says he may need future ankle fusion surgery), incurring roughly $125,000 in medical bills, and has seen his quality of life deteriorate.

Rene Rodriguez v. L.A. Fitness International LLC et al., which alleged negligence against the club chain and building owner U.B. Stamford L.P. for allowing the floor to remain in a slippery and unsafe condition and for failing to warn health club members of the hazard or to clean it up, turned on the testimony of witnesses who contradicted a janitor's assertion that he dry-mopped the basketball court every morning. Shown, also, that the health club and property owner had knowledge of ongoing leaks on the basketball court for years, the jury determined that the defendants should have known about the puddle, and assigned 65 percent of the negligence to L.A. Fitness and 35 percent to U.B. Stamford L.P. Just $400,000 of the award was for economic damages.

While Judge Trial Referee Alfred Jennings did reduce the economic damages from $400,000 to $290,123 on appeal, he denied the defendants' motion to overrule the jury's verdict. "The jury's award was very generous, certainly at the very high range of just compensation," Jennings ruled, "but the size of a damage award alone is not grounds for setting it aside or ordering a remittitur." Other Connecticut ankle injury cases involved plaintiffs who were much older, Jennings noted; Rodriguez has a significantly longer life expectancy.

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