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In Bronx prayer service case, Arbitration Award in favor of defendant on liability

Tabales v. United Methodist Iglesia Evangelica Church, Index. No. 23095/2012 (Sup.Ct. Bronx Cty. 2015)

Numerous inconsistencies in the plaintiff's testimony led a JAMS Arbitrator to find in favor of the defendant property owner in an action alleging serious injuries from a fall in a darkened stairway behind a boiler room door.

Plaintiff had alleged that she had fallen when, intending to visit a restroom, she instead walked through the door leading to the basement boiler room. The plaintiff argued that the defendant United Methodist Evangelical Church was negligent in failing to properly maintain the boiler room door within its premises. Ms. Tabales alleged that due to a lack of signage visible from her vantage point, and inadequate illumination of the hallway, she mistakenly walked past the restroom door, stepped through the threshold of the open, but dark doorway and fell down the stairs, sustaining a fractured left humerus and left radial shaft fracture, requiring open reduction and internal fixation of the radial shaft and the proximal ulna and a radial head replacement.

At the plaintiff's examination before trial, and during the arbitration hearing, Ms. Tabales acknowledged that she had attended services in the Church approximately 20 times over the prior three month period and she had used the restroom which was directly adjacent to the boiler room stairway where she had fallen, on at least 5 and as many as 10 times without incident. The plaintiff testified that on the evening in question, the fluorescent bulb fixture positioned directly above the door leading to the bathroom and adjacent to the boiler room was out.

After plaintiff's accident occurred, Pastor Saldana immediately entered the hallway where the door leading to the boiler room was located and he found the overhead light fixture to be illuminated and he could clearly differentiate between the restroom door and the boiler room door, which had a sign indicating "Danger-Boiler Room" which was affixed to the upper portion of the door.

After completing discovery, and holding a non-binding mediation, the parties submitted the matter to binding arbitration. This would allow them to present evidence and witnesses for an expeditious resolution, while avoiding the expense and all the implications of a trial in Supreme Court. Ultimately, the arbitrator, Ronnie B. Gallina, concluded that the plaintiff's testimony was conflicting at best and incredulous at worst. After a thorough review of the totality of the evidence and the applicable case law, the arbitrator found that the plaintiff failed to meet her burden of proving, by the greater weight of the evidence, that there was a dangerous condition on the defendant's property of which the Church had notice-either actual or constructive. Moreover, the arbitrator concluded that the plaintiff was not exercising reasonable care for her own safety and that her conduct was the cause of her accident. Accordingly, the arbitrator found in favor of the defendant United Methodist Evangelical Church.

AGF&J Partner Irwin Miller represented the defendant at the arbitration hearing.

If you would like to know more about using Alternative Dispute Resolution in cases that present potentially high exposure to damages, contact Irwin Miller, Michael E. Gorelick, Glenn A. Jacobson or Steven DiSiervi.