A Harris County jury deliberated less than one hour before finding a Houston area cemetery was not liable for negligence after a 72 year-old woman allegedly stepped into a hole on the premises. The woman had been visiting the Houston cemetery on Christmas day in 2003 to visit the gravesite of her daughter. As she walked to the gravesite, she testified her leg sank into the ground 18 to 20 inches deep, up to her right kneecap. She claimed when she fell into the hole, she “wrenched” her knee and ultimately required a total knee replacement. Plaintiff asked the jury to award nearly $200,000 in damages for her medical bills, mental anguish, disfigurement, and pain and suffering.
Plaintiff denied any preexisting problems to her knee, but two treating physicians admitted that Plaintiff had arthritis in her knee prior to her incident at the funeral home that day. One physician, who testified live at trial, explained the severity of Plaintiff”s preexisting arthritic problems based upon a 2002 x-ray of her knee.
After two and a half days of testimony, the jury ultimately was persuaded by the fact that Plaintiff admitted the alleged hole did not exist prior to her foot creating it on the premises. Plaintiff also admitted during cross examination that she “did not know if she was hurt” when she reported the incident to the manager on duty at the funeral home, and did not seek medical attention for nearly 13 days. She further conceded that she even drove to a Christmas party following the incident, and did not take any pain medication for her claimed knee condition during that period.
The cemetery representative testified that the facility is nearly 250 acres, and inspected daily for grounds keeping issues which may pose a hazard to guests like the plaintiff, including holes. This was the first time a hole, as described by Plaintiff, was ever encountered on the premises. The manager on duty noted the hole to be 3 to 5 inches deep after the incident was reported, which sharply contrasted with Plaintiff’s recollection.
The funeral home was represented by Mr. Steven Grubbs, an attorney with the law firm of Sheehy, Ware & Pappas, P.C., in Houston, Texas. Mr. Grubbs regularly represents cemeteries and funeral homes in Texas, including large corporate funeral directing firms and small family owned businesses. He also regularly defends licensed funeral directors and embalmers from licensure claims made by the Texas Funeral Service Commission. He is a member of the Texas Funeral Director’s Association and a regular speaker for that group. Mr. Grubbs is certified by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization in Labor and Employment Law.
For more information about this press release, you may contact the lawyer who represented the above cemetery, Mr. Steven Grubbs at (713) 951-1000, or send an email to him at sgrubbs @sswpc.com for further comment.
Sheehy, Ware & Pappas, P.C. — Committed to Excellence