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Jury finds for New Market in trip and fall sidewalk suit

By Joe Beck -- jbeck@nvdaily.com

A Shenandoah County Circuit Court jury delivered a verdict Thursday favoring the town of New Market in a lawsuit filed by a Fulks Run woman after she seriously injured her foot and ankle in a sidewalk hole.

The jury took 25 minutes to conclude that the town was not responsible for the injuries suffered by Cammie M. Fulk on Oct. 23, 2010 at 9400 Congress St. Fulk sought $400,000 plus interest from the town in the complaint she filed Sept. 2.

The verdict came after a day of testimony before Judge Dennis L. Hupp and the seven jury members.

Her attorneys, Lynn Svonavec of Harrisonburg and Dabney Overton Jr. of Linville told the jury that Fulk was struggling to move some tent poles for a booth she was setting up at a festival when her foot got stuck in the hole and caused her to fall. S

vonavec said her client suffered torn ligaments and a compression fracture to her right ankle.

"From October to March, she was not able to use the ankle at all," Svonavec told the jury, adding that it affected Fulk in her teaching job. Svonavec cited $21,000 in medical expenses, $8,000 in lost income from a teaching job and $2,500 in lost income from refereeing among the damages Fulk suffered.

Svonavec and Overton clashed with the town's attorneys, John Zunka and his son, Jimmy Zunka, both of Charlottesville, over whether Fulk had taken "ordinary care." Ordinary care is a legal principle meaning Fulk should have been able to see the hole without unusual effort.

"The town is not liable for every accident that happens on its sidewalks," John Zunka said in his closing argument. "The reason is that sidewalks are not perfect."

The sidewalk hole was open and obvious to someone exercising ordinary care about where they were walking, he insisted.

"If she contributed to her injuries, you find for the town of New Market," Zunka said.

At one point, he showed the jury a picture of the hole taken from across the street.

"I would suggest that's an open and obvious condition if you can see it from across the street," he said.

Svonavec sought to portray her client as a hard working and self-reliant teacher who had never sued anybody before.

"This is not a lady who expects other people to take responsibility for things she should have done herself," Svonavec said.

Overton asked the jury to pay attention to the circumstances under which the accident happened -- a busy day with many people in town for the festival all of which made it less likely that someone would be looking down at the sidewalk for a looming hole.

"That street was thronged with people, and the town wanted it thronged with people," Overton said.

New Market Town Manager Evan Vass said Friday that the sidewalk had been fixed under a comprehensive, federally funded improvement plan. Vass said the project had been planned before the lawsuit and the work was not a response to Fulk's injury.


Maybe if the lady would have sued for a more reasonable amount she would have been more.....hmmm I'm not sure about the words I'm looking for, but I think most people know what I'm saying. I would say an amount for just under 100,000 dollars might have been more reasonable.

A sidewalk is a sidewalk. I learned to walk on some bumpy ones when I was younger. A few have crevaces, a few have dings in them, some have this and that. Roots bring some of them up.,etc,etc.

This looks like a sham trial to me. If the town had applied for funds to fix the problem they are admitting they already knew the hole was there and an obvious danger to pedestrians, therefore, it should have been marked with safety tape. To make it more ridiculous a picture was taken of the hole after the fact and no mention was made of it having guards around it. According to the artical it was still an open danger for another accident. What if a person walked down the street at night? When I do I assume a solid walk would be there. I wonder if that question was ask?

you know what if the whole was there, just put a cheap cone on top of it. i have no clue about trials and tribulations!of the court system! All I know is that she had been su"ing (spelling is all wrong, but I do not care) where i was from back in early 80's for someone dropping a tomatoe or egg on her head. ..ha..ha.

I'm sorry bout the mispelling on here. Mr. George Jones just left my house to continue his tour. My spellings and annunciations will get better as the weekend goes on. Then Monday will come around and the annunciations will be repetive again.

For once I totally agree with you TeaTime. If someone injures themselves on your property, they can hold you responsible and New Market should have to pay.

At the very least that area should have been closed off.

I forgot to add one last thing. The town said "The sidewalk was open and obvious to someone exercising ordinary care about where they were walking." If it is so obvious how would a blind person know it was there?

How does one go from $31,500 that Svonavec cited to $400,000? What am I missing here?

It's our easily manipulated legal system. Now we don't know all the facts but with what I have read I don't know how this town was not found liable. That being said I definately agree this lady or anyone else should not hit the jackpot just because something bad happens and a large entity was found responsible. Common sense in these stories is often missing. Speaking of common sense... fill the damn hole in with sand or gravel until the slow wheels of government turn and offer a permanent solution. That would keep people safe without any obstruction that could be moved or tampered with like some of the earlier suggestions.Though they would have been better than New Markets idea of doing nothing with a festival happening!!!

Learn to take care of yourself, that includes to look where your walking and what your doing. Start taking responsibility for your own self and stop thinking that someone else is always responsible for your actions.

This world has gone sue happy and I think the people suing for a trip and fall are ridiculously stupid.

The town had applied for funds to replace sidewalks throughout the town, this was called the Streetscape Project. The main focus of this program was to beautify the town. As is stated in the article this project had nothing at all to do with this woman’s fall. This sidewalk was no more a danger to pedestrians than a set of steps. The lady in question stepped off the sidewalk and twisted her ankle. She didn’t fall in a hole in the sidewalk or anything even close to that. I was there the day she fell and I know what she claimed when she actually fell. After talking to some of the people helping with the festival I found out she was offered another space and declined to move. What is disturbing to me as I have followed this is how everything is twisted around after the fact. I think the bottom line is she saw dollar signs. This happens too often as it is. Had this lady asked for a more reasonable amount perhaps the town would have settled outside of court.

What happened to the days when you would fall, jump up really quick to make sure no one saw you?? Now when people fall they lay there to make sure someone sees them, all for a dollar!

What happened to the days when you would fall, jump up really quick to make sure no one saw you?? Now when people fall they lay there to make sure someone sees them, all for a dollar!

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