Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Despite the High Odds, a Steady Flow of Cases Confronts Property Owners, Insurers in Tulsa

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Despite the High Odds, a Steady Flow of Cases Confronts Property Owners, Insurers in Tulsa

Article excerpt

An allegedly deficient toilet seat triggered Cheri Ann Stevenson's negligence lawsuit.

The cited incident came during a Christmas season stop last year at a McDonald's along Tulsa's Admiral Boulevard. A toilet seat she sat on allegedly fell off, injuring her as it dumped the Tulsa County resident on the floor.

Considering consumer demands for bathroom cleanliness and safety, such a potentially embarrassing injury could well draw jury sympathy. But Tulsa attorney Kent Morlan doubts much will come from Stevenson's May 30 claim against McDonald's Restaurants of Oklahoma.

"She will lose that lawsuit," said the editor and publisher of Morelaw.com. "They will not settle with her and she will lose that."

While claiming no knowledge of the alleged incident, McDonald's Restaurants of Oklahoma denied any negligence in that lawsuit. Yet Morlan, who is not involved in the proceedings, based his prediction not on the merits of Stevenson's case, but the track record such lawsuits generally have.

Courts in the 13 counties tracked by the Oklahoma State Court Network recorded only 107 premises liability trial dispositions last year out of 22,390 across the entire system. The first half of this year saw 61 out of 8,509.

"Only very rarely will anybody win one of those kind of cases because of the very strict requirements with proof," said Morlan, a former Tulsa assistant city attorney whose firm has recorded Tulsa County court activity for more than a decade. "You have to have a dangerous condition on the property the plaintiff is not aware of and that the owner of the property was aware of."

Morlan said 98 percent of such cases are dismissed. Of the 2 percent tried, he said the defendant wins 60 percent.

"The reason for that is the defendant decides which ones to try, because the defendants are the ones that pay money to settle the cases," he said. "If they don't want to settle, they simply try it.

"The plaintiff in a personal injury case is betting the entire farm on one throw of the dice and a jury trial," said Morlan. "They settle the case on the theory they will lose because the odds are against them."

Yet such odds do not stop people from pursuing claims. The Tulsa County court clerk handled several such negligence filings over the last month.

Linda Wilard sued Dickinson Theatres for injuries suffered almost two years ago after she allegedly tripped over a small, unlighted platform while seeking a Starworld 24 movie seat in Bixby.

Janice Kelse claimed that a similar injury befell her in August 2011 at a Hancock Fabrics store, tripping over allegedly damaged and poorly lit floor tiles. She sued not just the company but also Tulsa store manager Tina Luper.

For Linda Renee Lewis, the claimed injury came two years ago in a parking garage concrete stairwell at one of Tulsa's DoubleTree Hotels. Her tripping incident led to a July 26 lawsuit against Hilton Worldwide and Tulsa D.T. LLC.

Troy Dahl reportedly fell in a Wimbledon Place Apartments stairwell August 2012 after a concrete step allegedly broke beneath him. …

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