South Carolina law firm Chappell Smith & Arden, P.A. recently won a $2.1 million verdict in favor of a 15-month-old toddler who suffered third-degree burns in her apartment complex.
Many of us don’t like to read about injuries involving children, but they happen. What’s unique about pursuing a lawsuit for an injury to a child is that it’s difficult to establish their financial worth. A child doesn’t earn a living or support their family, and it’s impossible to know their future earning potential. However, a serious injury can strain a family because they now incur additional costs related to the child’s medical care and treatment, sometimes other special needs, and potentially a more costly education. And, if the child is left disabled, there will be lifelong costs for their support and maintenance.
These are all factors the court considers in determining how much a case is worth when dealing with a child’s injury.
Lawsuit wins $2.1 million verdict for injured toddler
In August 2015, a baby came into contact with an uncoated metal plate installed in a sidewalk of her apartment complex in Columbia, South Carolina. The burns she sustained on her feet resulted in permanent nerve damage and caused her to develop a neuropathic pain syndrome known as CRPS. She will require medical care related to this incident for the rest of her life.
Chappell Smith & Arden partners Mark Chappell, Jr. and Jacob Born represented the toddler's family at trial. The Richland County jury returned a verdict of $1,386,950 in actual damages and $750,000 in punitive damages. The last offer from the defendant before trial was $150,000.
The defendant apartment complex denied responsibility for the toddler’s injuries. Their attorney claimed they were not responsible because the uncoated metal plank was up to code.
At trial, the apartment complex and their attorney denied responsibility for our client's injuries. The defendant claimed they were not responsible since the uncoated metal plank was up to code. The apartment complex also argued they should not be held liable because no one had been burned by the uncoated metal plank in the past and they never received any citations from local building inspectors. This corporate defendant even blamed our client's mother and aunt by claiming they failed to supervise the child.
Legal arguments for the plaintiff
Attorneys Chappell and Born focused on the apartment complex’s ongoing failures in complying with South Carolina law and training employees. The law requires that landlords maintain a common area in a reasonably safe condition. The Richland County Council adopted the International Property Maintenance Code (IPMC) in 2005, which requires that all sidewalks be free of dangerous hazards.
Chappell and Born took a two-pronged approach at trial:
1. The attorneys cross-examined the apartment complex’s corporate representative, asset manager and chief inspector. They established that the defendant did not properly train employees because these employees had never heard of the IPMC. These three witnesses admitted that they were unaware of this important safety rule.
The Chappell team also got the chief inspector to admit to the jury that he had never looked for thermal hazards during his inspections. In addition, the defendant admitted that the uncoated metal plate was in the same condition as it had been in seven years prior—the apartment complex had never taken steps to correct or fix the issue after the child was injured.
2. Chappell and Born also demonstrated to the jury that the uncoated metal plate would reach a potentially dangerous temperature when exposed to direct sunlight. Their expert metallurgist and engineer told the jury that temperature readings of the plate reached as high as 157 degrees, and that the temperature on the day their client was burned was likely hotter than that. The expert used authoritative engineering safety standards to show that a metal plate at that temperature could burn human skin in under two seconds. These standards demonstrated that the plate was dangerous and violated South Carolina law and the IPMC.
Finally, the attorneys showed at trial how the burn injuries changed the baby’s life. They presented to the jury a trauma surgeon who performed skin grafting procedures on the child’s feet. Her pediatrician and pediatric neurologist testified to the extent of her injuries. An expert life care planner and economist testified about the toddler’s future expenses and life care planning based on the permanent nature of her injuries.
The outcome at trial
After five days of trial, the jury determined that the apartment complex was responsible for the client’s injuries. The full verdict rendered by the jury will be invested in a special needs trust for her benefit. The funds will pay for her medical treatment, care, and hopefully college tuition when the time comes. The Chappell Smith & Arden attorneys believe justice was served, as the jury held the corporate defendant responsible for its conduct.
Contact Chappell Smith & Arden for your lawsuit
If you or a member of your family is injured and you believe it’s the result of another party’s negligence, you can contact the team at Chappell Smith & Arden for help. While no lawyer can guarantee a win when it comes to personal injury lawsuits, we can promise you’ll be in good hands with the Chappell team and that we’ll provide the optimal outcome for your case.