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Posted August 31, 2012 | 13 Comments
Jury finds for New Market in trip and fall sidewalk suit
By Joe Beck -- email@example.com
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
"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.