$5.66 Million Jury Verdict for Injured at Collapsed Self-Storage Unit

Stephen Wolkoff, 65, rented a self-storage unit from Sunshine Storage Inc. There was a loft storage unit above Wolkoff’s storage unit. The floor of the loft comprised the ceiling of Wolkoff’s storage unit. When Wolkoff was inside his unit, the ceiling above him collapsed crushing him beneath 3,000 pounds of material.

Wolkoff suffered a fractured pelvis, ruptured urethra and nerve damage to both of his legs. Wolkoff underwent open reduction surgery and reconstruction of his entire pelvis, procedures to reconnect his urethra and implant an artificial sphincter to drain his bladder and surgery to repair nerve damage in his legs.

Wolkoff also required a colostomy and wore the bag for three years. In addition, Wolkoff suffered complications, including infections to both ankles. Blood loss from the injuries caused permanent vision loss in his left eye and partial loss in his right eye. Wolkoff’s medical expenses totaled $3.2 million.

Before this incident, Wolkoff, who was retired, enjoyed exercising and participating in bodybuilding competitions. He is now unable to return to his former active lifestyle and uses a walker or cane and on occasion a wheelchair. One doctor has recommended that he may require bilateral ankle fusions. His future medical expenses and life care costs were estimated at $1.75 million.

Wolkoff and his wife filed a lawsuit against Sunshine Storage Inc., the storage company that housed the storage lofts, claiming that the unit’s unsafe construction was a hazard and the cause of Wolkoff’s injuries. The Wolkoffs contended that the structure did not conform to local building codes or accepted engineering principles because the ceiling was not properly supported with bracing or bolts. In addition, the Wolkoffs claimed that Sunshine Storage had not built the storage lofts with the required building permit.

In its defense, Sunshine Storage maintained that the engineer and general contractor that built the units were solely responsible for the alleged construction flaws.

The Wolkoffs moved for directed verdict arguing that there was insufficient evidence that the engineer and general contractor were at fault. The court denied that motion. The jury allocated fault after hearing the evidence, at 30% to Sunshine Storage, 30% to each the engineer and general contractor who built the units, and 10% to Wolkoff. The jury entered its verdict for the Wolkoffs for $5.66 million, including $3.2 million for past medical expenses, $1.75 million for future medical expenses, $500,000 for pain and suffering, and $200,000 to Wolkoff’s wife for loss of consortium.

The Wolkoffs moved to set aside the jury’s apportioned at fault percentages based on the court’s finding of insufficient evidence. The plaintiffs also moved for a new trial and additur on the noneconomic damages award.

The trial judge granted the plaintiffs’ motion to set aside the jury’s apportionment of fault to the engineer and general contractor, allocating their additional 60% fault to Sunshine. The court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for additur, which is a way of adding to the jury’s verdict. In this case, both the plaintiffs and the defendant Sunshine are appealing the court’s rulings and the jury’s verdict. The attorney representing the Wolkoff family was Deborah J. Gander.

Wolkoff v. Sunshine Storage, Inc., No. CACE0914543 (Fla., Broward Co. Cir., Nov. 15, 2013).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling injury cases, work injuries, construction site accidents cases, and car accident cases for individuals and families who have been injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 38 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Palos Heights, Chicago Heights, Libertyville, Rolling Meadows, Schiller Park, Robbins, Park Ridge, Summit, Thornton, Tinley Park, Westchester, Wilmette, Winnetka, Worth, Mount Prospect, Maywood, Hoffman Estates and Hanover Park, Ill.

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