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Lawyers win; plaintiff, defendants lose

Karen Woodmansee
Appeal Staff Writer

This tale proves that the only winners when cases end up in court are the lawyers.

I spent a week in the Storey County Courthouse as a defendant in a lawsuit over an incident I had nothing to do with.

I was an interim president of the Virginia City Chamber of Commerce back in 2005 when everyone else in town was too smart to take that volunteer job. That year, a 86-year-old Idaho woman filed suit against the chamber, the Virginia City Convention and Tourism Authority and a local construction firm over a fall she took two years earlier. She waited until almost the last day of the two-year legal window to file the suit, and due to our speedy legal system, the case didn’t come to trial for two more years.

Since I was president of the chamber at the time, I handled the insurance and lawyers and gave statements about what I knew of the incident, which was nothing. I wasn’t there that day, and didn’t become involved with the chamber board until 2005. When the case came up, though I was no longer president of the chamber, I was the one who saw it through.

In August of 2003, the plaintiff fell down an open trap door that was needed to access the basement of the Virginia City visitors center, an 1876-era building that was being restored. The workers were replacing the restrooms, and the pipes the plumbers needed to replace were in the basement.

She came in, by her own admission didn’t watch where she was going, and fell down the hole. She was helped out, the paramedics were called against her wishes, and she refused treatment and went on her way.

The next day she sought treatment after waking up with pain in her wrist and side. It turned out she had broken a rib and sprained her wrist. She received treatment for both and healed. She then went on a three-month cruise that winter and continued going about her life. Ten months later, she developed back trouble, and the thought of lawsuits apparently entered her mind.

She and her lawyers asked for more than $230,000 for past and future medical bills and other damages.

There was considerable debate about whether the work area was roped off or not, and if her back trouble had anything to do with the fall. Two doctors testified, giving opposite opinions, of course, and of course they were both paid for those opinions.

The jury in the end found in favor of the plaintiff, with 45 percent of the blame placed on the VCCTA, which owned the building, 45 percent placed on the construction company and 10 percent of the blame placed on the chamber, which leased part of the visitors center.

The jury gave her $28,544.50, which was less than offers from two of the defendants. Under Nevada law, I’m told, since the award was less than the settlement offers, the plaintiff is responsible for the legal fees of two of the defendants.

Which means she paid her initial medical bills and four out of the five lawyers involved. I lost a week of work, and some insurance companies and the construction company has to cough up some dough.

No one won but the lawyers.

•••

The Lyon County Commissioners were very busy on Aug. 16, but they got their work done quickly, so I’m told. I wasn’t there, because of the above-mentioned court actions.

From phone calls to people in-the-know, I found out the commissioners OK’d a 5-year deal that will allow Highlands Wireless Inc. to install and maintain equipment on the Singatse Peak translator site in Yerington. The work will improve service for personal communications.

•••

The commissioners accepted about 5,000 feet of walking trails in the park at Santa Maria Ranch, complete with exercise stations, three access roads, parking lots, river access for raft takeout and picnic tables. It also boasts two restrooms that meet the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The park is being funded by a $75,000 grant from the Land and Water Conservation fund and a $328,140 grant from Question 1 funds.

The 33 acres were donated by the Dayton Land Developers LLC.

I wonder how many people needing handicapped restrooms will use a walking trail with exercise stations, but I guess you never know.

•••

The Sept. 20 commissioners meeting will be held in Fernley instead of the usual Yerington. They will meet in the Fernley Council Chambers.

The drive to Fernley is a little shorter for me than the drive to Yerington, but not nearly as pretty.

•••

The October 4 commissioners meeting has been canceled because of a conflict with the National Association of Counties’ annual conference in Elko.

• Contact reporter Karen Woodmansee at kwoodmansee@nevadaappeal.com or 882-2111 ext. 351.