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| Paulson & Nace

The Washington Post reports today that 73 year old Harold Spencer of Warrenton, Virginia unnecessarily died following a fall at the newly-opened Warrenton-Fauquier Visitor Center:

Warrenton native Harold Spencer walked out of the newly built Warrenton-Fauquier Visitor Center and tripped over a 16-inch wall around a cistern just outside the front door. Spencer, 73, fell awkwardly and broke his neck. Three days later, he died.

The Post goes on to report that

Spencer, a stockbroker who raised his five children in Warrenton, was on the board of the foundation that helped build the visitor center, and his family was not inclined to sue his home town. But then one of his sons discovered that the visitor center had failed its final inspection four times for not putting a guardrail around the cistern. They also found that the town had moved into the center without an occupancy permit, records show.

"To our mind, it was never about the money," said Spencer’s widow, Ellie Spencer. "It was about accountability. It was an unsafe situation, and they didn’t do anything about it, and someone got hurt. Badly."

So often we hear about so-called frivolous lawsuits. But we should remember that for every lawsuit that is labeled "frivolous" by a defendant, there is a plaintiff that was seriously injured. Often times, it is necessary to initiate litigation to learn the true details of someone’s negligence.

So often all a plaintiff wants is an apology, but instead ends up with the run-around:

"What really launched this lawsuit for me," Spencer said, "were the lack of apologies and acknowledgments. And what burns me up today is that when the town could have issued one, they decided to undercut their own $1.25 million gesture by belittling the settlement, denying responsibility and now trying to blame a nonprofit organization."

This tragic death didn’t have to happen. But it is equally as tragic that the city has failed to take responsibility for its obvious negligence.

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