Premises Liability - Dangerous Condition
Employee at drycleaner slipped in soapy water from washer
Maria Vargas v. Humble Cleaners Corp., No. 2013-73961
Harris County District Court, 333rd, TX
J. Stephen Czuleger
March 15, 2016
Tara Afrakhteh Milliff; Crockett Law P.C.; Houston TX for Maria Vargas
On Oct. 31, 2013, plaintiff Maria Vargas, 40, an employee of Humble Cleaners Corp., told her employer that she slipped, fell and sustained an injury at work. Humble Cleaners was a non-subscriber to workers' compensation. She fractured her wrist.
The water also flooded the building's only restroom, she said, and employees started using a restroom in a nearby building.
Vargas was required to go out the back door to take pressed clothes to delivery vans throughout the day. She complained that her shoes were always getting wet and that the floor was slippery. Other employees also complained about the standing water, and despite the complaints, Humble Cleaners did nothing to remedy the problem, she alleged.
At the time of the incident, Vargas said, she was taking out the trash, which required her to go out the back door.
The plaintiff's Occupational Health and Safety Administration expert testified that the standing water on the floor violated OSHA; that it was a recognized hazard to the safety of employees; that no reasonably prudent employer would allow its employees to work in such conditions; that Humble Cleaners should have either fixed the leaking washing machine or provided the employees with slip-resistant shoes and slip-resistant mats.
Humble Cleaners denied that Vargas fell at work. No one saw her fall at work, and the medical records said she fell at home.
Vargas conceded that her medical records said that she fell at home. She claimed that she had to state that the accident occurred at home in order to see the doctor. Nurses told her that if she said it happened at work and the employer was a non-subscriber, the doctor would not see her, she claimed.
The defense further denied that a dangerous condition existed. An employee swept the water out the back door throughout the day, the defense argued.
Vargas claimed that the incident caused a right dominant wrist fracture.
She claimed that she experienced severe pain right after the incident. When she reported the injury, management bought her a wrist brace and told her to take it easy for a while. She continued to work in pain for three weeks, until the pain became unbearable, she said. She went to a doctor, but he would not treat work-related injuries unless the employer had workers' compensation insurance. The nurses therefore suggested that they tell the doctor that the injury occurred at home instead of at work, Vargas said.
The doctor took X-rays, which showed a fracture of the right wrist. Vargas underwent open reduction surgery, but the fracture did not heal properly. She underwent physical therapy until March 2014. She could no longer lift heavy objects with her right arm and was still in pain at the time of trial, she said.
Vargas sought $175,000 for past and future physical pain, past mental anguish and past and future physical impairment. Her past medical bills were $10,500. However, the defense objected that affidavits were not filed properly, and the court excluded the medical bills.
The defense argued that the three-week delay in obtaining treatment significantly undermined Vargas' claims of pain. The defense further argued that, by failing to seek treatment, she failed to mitigate her damages and that, if she did sustain a fracture on the job, the delay in treatment likely made it worse.