Elevated walkways overlooking parking lots, store entrances, and other commercial spaces can be both beautiful and functional, giving shoppers a chance to grab some fresh air and watch people coming and going below them, while also giving retailers extra space for storage, lockers, kiosks, and places for shoppers to walk, hang out, and mingle.
But according to a recent lawsuit against a Manhattan mall, such walkways can also be dangerous, posing a potential liability for both the mall and the security company charged with keeping the mall and its customers safe.
The East River Plaza Mall in East Harlem was sued for more $45 million after two boys shoved a shopping cart over the railing of the elevated walkway in October of 2011. The shopping cart hit Marion Hedges, a philanthropist, and real estate agent, on the head. She had been shopping for Halloween candy with her son, Dayton, who was 13 at the time.
Hedges collapsed immediately, stopped breathing for a time, and was rushed to the hospital. She suffered severe brain damage, which allegedly resulted in symptoms such as double vision, memory loss, diminished cognitive abilities, and incontinence. According to her attorney, Hedges continues to suffer from the effects of her head injury almost seven years after the incident.
The two boys who shoved the shopping cart over the railing were 12 and 13 years old at the time of the incident. They were both arrested and convicted as minors, although Hedges did not sue them. Instead, she sued the mall and Planned Security Service, the security company the mall had hired to secure the mall’s common areas, including the walkway in question.
According to the lawsuit, the security company allegedly knew there had been repeated incidents where people had thrown objects from the pedestrian walkway, thereby presenting a legitimate danger to pedestrians below, and yet the security company allegedly failed to properly address this security risk.
A jury recently ruled in Hedges’ favor, determining the security company was 25% responsible for the incident, while the mall was 65% responsible. It decided that the boys who threw the cart over the railing were only 10% responsible for the damage they caused.
As compensation for the physical and emotional damages that resulted from the traumatic incident, the jury decided to award Hedges $41 million, her son, Dayton, $2.5 million, and her husband $2 million.
While that may sound like cause for celebration, it’s too early to pop the champagne just yet. An attorney for the security company has said they will be appealing the decision. If the appellate court agrees to hear the case, it will have to be tried all over again. Even if an appellate court refuses to hear the case, the award amounts still have to be approved by a judge before they can be finalized and payments can be made. A judge could decide to reduce or even extend the amount of the awards, depending on how they view the case.
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