A St. Louis personal injury case involving a pothole, a church, a private school and plat maps dating to the 1800s settled at mediation for $380,000. The case was resolved after a judge ruled regarding ownership of the land where the pothole had formed.
On June 1, 2004, Sherri Conley suffered a neck injury when she was launched out of her seat after driving over a water-filled pothole on the grounds of the Forsyth School, said her attorney, Walter L. Floyd. She was making a left turn from northbound Skinker Boulevard into a driveway at Central Church of Christ, which leases space from the Forsyth School, at 305 S. Skinker Blvd.
Conley usually parked in a different area at the church, but on this day she showed up to pay a bill and entered the grounds another way. She didn’t know about the pothole, and when her Land Rover’s left front wheel ran over it, she shot up and hit her head on the Land Rover’s roof. She was wearing a seat belt, Floyd said.
Later that day, Conley went to the emergency room at Missouri Baptist Medical Center, suffering from neck pain. She told her doctors she already had chronic neck pain, but she had suffered an injury that day. Eventually, in August 2004, she had surgery to fuse the C5-6 cervical discs, and she made a reasonable recovery, Floyd said. But her pain persisted, and in July 2007 she had a second cervical disc surgery on discs C4-5.
Back in 2001, she had had a previous cervical surgery to take care of a degenerated disc in a different area, at C6-7. Her surgeon found another degenerated disc at C5-6, but did not operate.
Michael Maguire, the defense attorney for the Forsyth School, argued that the 2001 operation indicated that Conley had pre-existing degenerative disc disease, and a worsening of the condition caused her neck surgeries. Maguire did not return phone calls seeking comment.
Beyond that, however, Maguire checked the plats and deeds in the St. Louis recorder’s office, and learned the city of St. Louis owned a right-of-way between the curb of Skinker Boulevard and the public sidewalk that intersects the driveway at the Forsyth School. The pothole was both in both the street and in the driveway. Maguire filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing the school could not be liable because it did not own the land on which the pothole occurred.
Maguire argued that although the pothole was on a driveway used to access 305 S. Skinker, its employees rarely used the driveway for their own purposes, so the school could not be liable.
Floyd said he conceded the school was not liable for the street-based portion of the pothole, but he argued it had control over the driveway with the pothole. He said the previous property owners had built the driveway for the benefit of the building’s tenants.
The judge ruled that an abutting landowner has a continuing duty to maintain a driveway it creates for its own purposes, even if the driveway is on public land.
Conley, now 54, had three operations after the incident and had to leave her job at the Metropolitan St. Louis Sewer District.
— Rebecca Boyle
n $380,000 settlement
n Court: St. Louis City Circuit Court
n Case Number/Date: 22062-00650/Oct. 20, 2010
n Judge: Margaret Neill
n Plaintiff’s Experts: James England, England & Co., St. Louis (vocational rehabilitation); Mark Levrins, Brown Smith Wallace, St. Louis (accountant); Dr. Paul Sheehan, St. Louis (neurosurgeon); Dr. George Schoedinger, St. Louis (orthopedic surgeon); Dr. David Bean, St. Louis (family medicine)
n Defendant’s Experts: Dr. David Raskas, St. Louis (orthopedic surgeon)
n Special Damages: Medical: $95,333.60; wage/fringes loss: $1,004,700
n Last Pretrial Offer: $100,000
n Insurer: Traveler’s Insurance Co.
n Caption: Conley v. Forsyth School Inc.
n Plaintiff’s Attorney: Walter L. Floyd, The Floyd Law Firm, St. Louis
n Defendant’s Attorney: Michael B. Maguire, Brown & James, St. Louis