Dental hygienist wins huge court settlement after tripping on sidewalk

July 28, 2015

In the world of dentistry, your hands are crucial to your livelihood. So what happens when these indispensable tools become injured? One dental hygienist learned the answer the hard way after she tripped on a faulty sidewalk during a lunchtime stroll.

In the world of dentistry, your hands are crucial to your livelihood. So what happens when these indispensable tools become injured? One dental hygienist learned the answer the hard way after she tripped on a faulty sidewalk during a lunchtime stroll.

On June 7, 2011, Susan Ellis, 73, decided to meander down the street with a few friends during a lunch break from her job at a local dental practice. Unbeknownst to her at the time, there was a 1.5-inch gap in between two sections of pavement. Her foot got caught in the space, causing her to topple forward and badly fracture her wrist.

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According to court documents, Ellis suffered a severe Colles' fracture that required surgery to fix the damage. After her surgery, her wrist became infected, necessitating a second surgery. She then had to undergo a third surgery to remove the metal plate and rods that had been inserted during the first surgical undertaking. The injury, and subsequent surgeries, prevented her from working and left her permanently disabled, unable to perform daily tasks and ending her career. This prompted her to sue the City of West Hartford, Conn., for years of lost wages and medical bills.

Her lawsuit alleged that the city was at fault because the defective public sidewalk, which the city was expected to maintain, caused her fall.The friends who were walking with Ellis at the time of the injury testified that she had not been acting negligently, and had not been talking on her cell phone. 

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The city did not dispute Ellis' injuries but rebutted that the injury was caused by her own negligence and inattention. However, the city also admitted that the section of sidewalk where Ellis tripped was at least 15 years old, and that city inspectors did not do routine inspections of public walkways.

“There were no external factors that would’ve allowed the jury to consider her to be negligent in any way,” said Ellis’ lawyer, Alan Rome. “She was doing everything appropriate and proper.”

Ultimately, after a short deliberation, the jury ruled in favor of Ellis, awarding her $770,357 ($500,000 for noneconomic damages, $100,000 for lost wages, $75,000 for lost future earnings and $93,357 for medical bills).  Unfortunately, Ellis’ career as a dental hygienist is over.

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