September 19, 2008

Contact:  Eric W. Boyer, Esq.
Managing Partner
305-670-1101 Ext. 1023


Todd Michael Smayda

FERNANDINA BEACH, FL – Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A. (QPWB), Quintairos, Prieto, Wood & Boyer, P.A. (QPWB)Jacksonville partner, Todd M. Smayda, obtained a defense verdict on behalf of the Gray Gable Nassau Village Volunteer Fire Department (VFD) in a case in which a general surgeon sued a VFD for an injury sustained while participating as a volunteer in a charity event of dunk-the-doctor. The event was hosted by the American Cancer Society Relay for Life and sponsored by the hospital, who had borrowed the dunking booth from the VFD. Prior to the trial, the hospital already had settled with the plaintiff. The original claim against the hospital did not include the VFD, and was later amended by adding the VFD.

The plaintiff, Robert Hogan, was the fourth doctor in line to be dunked, and allegedly slipped while climbing into the dunking booth lacerating his finger, which required eight stitches at the emergency room. Three months after the injury, the plaintiff asserted he had developed Reflex Sympathetic Dystrophy (RSD). He claimed this caused him to become disabled thus forcing him to close his medical practice. His experts and treating physicians stated that he was permanently disabled and that the costs of lost wages and future care ranged between $3-4 million.

The biggest challenge at trial was dealing with the numerous allegations brought by the plaintiff against the defendant VFD, which included lending of an allegedly dangerous dunk tank, negligent design and building of a dangerous dunk tank, failure to modify and failure to warn of a dangerous dunk tank. Additionally, plaintiff’s experts claimed that the section of the ladder extending into the dunk tank did not comply with OSHA standards for fixed ladders, that it lacked a non-slip surface on the steps and handrails.
In spite of the numerous claims raised against the product, during the trial, the defense established that the dunk tank was safe as shown by its construction, and by its continued use. The dunk tank, with a span of 15 years of use within the community, did not have a history of complaints as to the ladder nor of any injuries. The defense expert, a safety and operations consultant for theme parks and outdoor events, noted the dunk tank was of a common design and was safe.

In combating the plaintiff’s damages, the defense showed that the plaintiff’s hospital privileges were to expire within eight months following the accident, as the plaintiff had failed to obtain the required board certification on four previous occasions. Moreover, the opinion of two expert witnesses indicated that the plaintiff did not in fact suffer from RSD.

The two-week trial concluded when the jury deliberated for one hour and ten minutes returning with a defense verdict. 

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