This suit was brought against the owner of a building by a woman who alleged that she tripped over a strip of metal separating carpet from tile flooring in a doctor's office and fell so hard she injured her brain.
At issue was whether the strip complied with the building code requirement that it rise no higher than a quarter of an inch off the floor. The defense's engineer testified that the strip was compliant with the code, while the plaintiff's architect contended that it was too tall by a few fractions of an inch.
"Apparently, architects and engineers measure differently," said one of the plaintiff's attorneys, Marcus S. McGee of Charlotte, who tried the case with Lauren O. Newton of Charles G. Monnett III & Associates.
Both experts backed up their testimony with photos of their measurements, but then argued over the camera angle and quality of those images, said the defendant's attorney, Kenneth R. Raynor of Tempelton & Raynor in Charlotte.
In the end, though, Raynor said that even if the plaintiff was right about the code violation, she and her attorneys were unable to convince the jury that the defendant knew or should have known about the violation, thus failing to prove negligence.
Raynor added that the architect even seemed to be confused about whether an older version of the code, which said the strip should actually be lower than a quarter of an inch, applied in this case.
"You've got two experts fighting about it and one [the architect] is flip-flopping," he said. "I think what that did is illustrate for the jury how difficult it would be for a typical building owner to know which code standards apply."
Reflecting on the loss, McGee believed that jurors could not reconcile the plaintiff's significant injuries, which included $800,000 in lost wages and $66,000 in medical bills, with such a small measurement.
"It's a relatively minor act of negligence that leads to a catastrophic result," he said.
After speaking with three jurors post-verdict, Newton came away with the impression that they'd been tripped up by the judge's instruction that a code violation did not necessarily constitute negligence. She was considering whether to appeal the verdict.
"The special instruction requested by the defense was confusing," she said. "They [the jurors] essentially ignored the measurements. They said they didn't discuss them because of this instruction."