Johnny C. Murray vs. Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. And J's Maintenance Services Inc.


    Christopher Faenza and Alice Smith obtained a defense verdict on behalf of Home Depot U.S.A. Inc. and J's Maintenance Services Inc. in this negligence/premises liability action involving plaintiff's slip-and-fall incident that occurred at the Home Depot located in Goleta, California.

    On August 31, 2008, plaintiff and his wife went to Home Depot to purchase a tube of wood glue. After allegedly purchasing the wood glue (the time of the transaction on the receipt was after the time of the alleged incident), they exited the store then re-entered with the intent to purchase a microwave oven. As they walked behind a sales associate to the back aisle of the store where the microwave ovens were displayed, plaintiff Johnny Murray allegedly slipped and fell on a "puddle" of water, landing on his head and back. Plaintiff contended that defendant Home Depot negligently maintained the premises in a reasonably safe condition and defendant J's Maintenance negligently operated a floor scrubbing machine by leaving water on the polished concrete floor, which caused the floor to be slippery.

    As a result of the incident, plaintiff claimed injuries to his head, neck, and low back, requiring two back surgeries and claimed future spinal fusion and/or spinal stimulator. Prior to trial, plaintiff demanded in excess of $1 million. At trial, plaintiff sought damages in excess of $262,000 for past medical bills, $500,000 for loss of earnings and earning capacity (which was dropped during trial), $250,000 for past noneconomic damages, and $423,600 for future noneconomic damages.

    In defense, Mr. Faenza and Ms. Smith contested liability and damages based on plaintiff's history of fraudulent conduct and lack of credibility. Plaintiff's 20-plus years of prison medical records provided a wealth of information such as that plaintiff swallowed a razor blade, faked seizures and falls in order to get out of his jail cell and manipulate the prison medical system in order to get "property" was highlighted. Plaintiff readily admitted these fraudulent schemes on the stand, and also admitted that his parole was revoked twice following the incident, in one instance because he impersonated a city building inspector in order to get paid on a contractor's job he was working on without proper licensure from the state. In furtherance of their position that plaintiff's claim was fraudulent, defendants presented surveillance videos depicting plaintiff moving about freely without a cane, performing car mechanics work, jumping a curb with a motorized scooter. These videos stood in stark contrast to plaintiff's demeanor at the examination by defense's orthopedic surgeon where he complained of chronic pain and exhibited 25 percent of normal range of motion, and in court where he used the cane in front of the jury until it was revealed that defendants intended to use impeachment evidence.

    The case was tried in the Superior Court of the County of Santa Barbara before the Honorable Colleen Sterne. The trial lasted for seven days.

    After three hours of deliberations, the jury returned a 10-2 verdict in favor of defendants on causation.

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