Court refuses to re-evaluate jury verdict of $3,000.00 for woman who incurred $600,000.00 in medical expenses
Lela Tompkins suffered "soft tissue" injuries when she fell in a water puddle in Detroit's Metropolitan Airport. The airport was under construction when Tompkins fell and the puddle had accumulated on a "glossy surface" beneath a roof leak near a tram station. Tompkins incurred about $3,000.00 in medical expenses in Michigan and then more than $600,000.00 in exenses for continuing treatment in Florida. The Defense attorney attacked the "Florida litigation machine" and persuaded the jury to award damages only for the Michigan treatment. Tompkins asked the Court to set aside the verdict because it was against the great weight of the evidence and a product of attorney misconduct inducing unfair prejudice.The appelate judges affirmed the trial judge's refusal to modify the verdict or grant a new trial. They ruled that Tompkins had failed to make a "concrete showing" that misconduct "consistently permeated" the trial, despite multiple remarks attempting to discredit Plaintiff's motives and proof of injury. The held that "to the extent that this evidence was prejudicial, it was fairly isolated, and when it was objected to, the court sustained [Tompkins'] objection and [defense] counsel moved on..." The appellate panel also ruled that Tompkins presented no "direct evidence as to how these remarks prejudiced the jury."
Frankly, these remarks would formerly have been presumed to influence the jury, since that was the deliberate intent and no direct proof of their impact (beyond the absurdly small verdict) is available to the victim. Unfortunately, right now insurers' hand-selected judges tend to dominate the judiciary in Michigan and insurers have an undue impact on the overly-political definitions of "justice." Combine that with a healthy resentment by ordinary people to the cost and business of medical care, and with a long-standing reluctance to disturb jury verdicts, and Tompkins' outcome is not so great a surprise.
In other holdings, the Court concluded that Wayne County was properly dismissed from the suit because the leak that caused the fall was a "design" error and governmental obligation to maintain public buildings now applies only to maintenance and not to design.