Beauty salon cabinet falls and strikes patron, causing brain injury

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Case in Point

July 9, 2013

Beauty salon cabinet falls and strikes patron, causing brain injury 

The plaintiffs sued the company that designed and sold the cabinet, alleging strict liability, negligence, and breach of the implied warranty of fitness. They claimed the cabinet was defectively designed in that it was sold without any mounting apparatus or bracing device. The parties settled for $1.2 million. Stock v. Morizzo.

Katharine Stock was having her hair shampooed at a beauty salon when a cabinet fell from the wall above her, striking her head.

Stock, 55, suffered a closed-head injury and was subsequently diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury. The injury left her with permanent cognitive impairments, including problems with short-term memory, thought processing, and decision making. She also suffers from headaches, nausea, photophobia, and depression, and she has received supportive social work care. Stock was working as a special education teacher at the time of the incident, but she is now permanently disabled.

Stock and her husband sued Mr. Beauty Equipment, Ltd., the company that designed and sold the cabinet, alleging strict liability, negligence, and breach of the implied warranty of fitness. Among other things, the plaintiffs contended that the cabinet was defectively designed in that it was sold without any mounting apparatus or bracing device. The plaintiffs contended that the cabinet should have had a mounting rail on the back through which the unit could be screwed to studs in the wall. The plaintiffs also alleged that the defendant failed to warn of the cabinet’s weight limit and of the danger of overloading it. They asserted that the cabinet was designed for towels only, but there were no warnings to this effect, and salon employees used it for storing shampoo bottles. The plaintiffs contended that the screws pulled out of the cabinet after three years of continual use and storage of bottles.

The plaintiffs also sued the contractor who installed the cabinet, alleging that he failed to mount the cabinet with a brace.

Finally, the plaintiffs sued the owner of the salon, alleging that its employees were negligent in overloading the cabinet.

The plaintiffs claimed about $280,000 in past lost earnings and about $1.6 million in future lost earnings. They also sought damages for pain and suffering, and Stock’s husband claimed loss of consortium. The plaintiffs did not claim medical expenses.

Mr. Beauty denied that the cabinet was defective and argued that it failed solely because of improper installation, product misuse and overloading, or both. The defense also argued that if Stock suffered any injury at all, it was only a minor concussion and there was no brain damage.

The trial was bifurcated. In the liability phase, the jury found that Mr. Beauty was 100 percent responsible. Before the damages phase, the parties settled for $1.2 million, paid by the defendant’s insurer.

Citation: Stock v. Morizzo, No. 016290/2003 (N.Y., Suffolk Co. Sup. Mar. 18, 2013).

Plaintiff counsel: Christopher A. Marothy, New York City.

Plaintiff experts: Vincent Ettari, civil engineering, Shrub Oak, N.Y.; David Mahalick, neuropsychology, Maplewood, N.J.; Jeffrey Brown, psychiatry, New York City; and Thomas Fitzgerald, economics, Mount Vernon, N.Y.

Defense experts: Peter Pomeranz, civil engineering, Massapequa Park, N.Y.; Denise Bekaert, architecture, New York City; John Elmo, interior design, Yonkers, N.Y. and Shane Bush, neuropsychology, Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y.


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