CHARLESTON – A statewide legal reform group is calling a recently filed lawsuit regarding an injury at a Kanawha County McDonald's questionable and is saying the judge should closely consider his options.
The plaintiff's attorney in the case, meanwhile, says he already has amended the complaint.
In the complaint filed March 21, Taneisha Adams of South Charleston says she was at the Dunbar McDonald's on July 18, 2010, when a restaurant employee knocked a wet floor sign over onto her right foot.
"This case appears to be highly questionable and could be yet another frivolous lawsuit that scares jobs away from West Virginia," West Virginia Citizens Against Lawsuit Abuse Executive Director Richie Heath said.
Adams claims the defendant – Keith Watson dba K&S Management -- had a duty to keep and maintain its restaurant and premises in a reasonably safe condition and was negligent in doing so. She says she sustained physical pain and suffering; mental anguish; limitations in her activities; and a diminution in her ability to enjoy life, according to the suit.
In the original complaint filed by attorney William H. Harding, Adams was seeking compensatory and punitive damages with pre- and post-judgment interest. But Harding said he filed an amended complaint that no longer seeks punitive damages. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Tod J. Kaufman.
"While a wet floor sign hitting your foot could cause a slight inconvenience, it is hard to imagine a scenario in which it would warrant punitive damages," Heath said. "It is another unfortunate reminder of the negative impact that our state's 'jackpot justice' culture can have on local businesses."
Heath said Kaufman should weigh his options carefully when deciding whether to dismiss the case or allow it to proceed to trial.
"Frivolous filings can often cost thousands of dollars in legal expenses just to dismiss, and should lead to sanctions under state court rules," Heath said. "Court rules allow judges to punish plaintiffs and their lawyers for frivolous lawsuit filings, but they seldom use the punishment.
"If there is nothing more to this case than a small plastic sign falling on a foot, then Judge Kaufman might well send an important message that meritless lawsuit filings will not be tolerated in Kanawha County."
Harding said he client didn't want to try her case in the media. But he did want to stress he had amended the original complaint and no longer seeks punitive damages.
"Clearly it was an oversight with respect to the complaint dealing with punitive damages," he said. "We didn't allege anything but oversight. I have filed an amended complaint. To that extent, it's been corrected."
As far as WV CALA's other claims, Harding again said he wants his client to have her day in court.
"As far as their position of assuming the status of my client or her injuries or the severity of her injuries, they're without any factual basis," Harding said of WV CALA. "They have no discussed the matter with her. They are not her attending physician. And they clearly were not there.
"We'll leave the facts for the jury to decide. Justice will prevail."
Kanawha Circuit Court case number: 11-C-448