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Man tumbled from electric wheelchair and died from his injuries
Facts & Allegations
Plaintiff’s decedent Henry Garza, a retired auto worker who was 85 at the time of his death in 2006, was wheelchair-bound due to sustaining a fractured hip in a car accident in 2004. On April 2, 2006, Garza left his senior citizen apartment complex located at 2056 Antoine in Houston and rode his electric wheelchair northbound on the sidewalk. He was approaching the nearby premises of Asia-Medic Inc., a Chinese herbal store, when his scooter suddenly tipped over to the left, throwing him to the ground. His head slammed against the concrete driveway near the edge of the street, and the scooter landed on his legs. A passerby stopped and rendered aid; Garza was bleeding heavily from his head and also his left hand. He later died from his injuries.
The Garza family brought a wrongful death suit against Asia-Medic Inc., alleging premises liability. The family alleged that Garza was a licensee on Asia-Medic’s premises and Asia-Medic had a duty to warn him of the latent defect in the sidewalk and driveway.
Tony Denena of Denena & Points, P.C., representing the family, argued that the cause of Garza’s fall was the dangerous curb-like transition from the sidewalk to the driveway on Asia-Medic’s premises. He alleged that the driveway was constructed without a permit after Asia-Medic purchased the property in 1995, and it was not constructed to conform to the City of Houston Building Code. The transition between the sidewalk and the driveway created a slope of approximately 8 inches, similar to a curb. The family argued that the curb-like transition slope ranged from less than 2 inches to 8 inches over the 4-foot width of the sidewalk, making it difficult to discover upon approach. Counsel argued that the building code permits no more than one inch of slope for every 15 inches of lateral travel. Here, there was approximately six to eight inches of drop in about four inches of lateral travel.
Counsel hired an expert engineer, who opined that the slope was grossly improper. The family’s counsel conducted interviews of many of the homeowners in the area as well as a good Samaritan who rendered aid to Garza at the scene. The neighbors helped locate the previous homeowner who submitted to a witness statement, saying that the driveway that caused Garza’s fall was constructed after that homeowner sold the property to Asia-Medic’s principals. The previous homeowner also provided a photograph to document his assertion that he did not pour the driveway.
Asia-Medic claimed that it did not construct the driveway and did not know who did. It also claimed that it did not owe Garza any duty to warn about or repair the driveway.
Garza was rushed to a local hospital where CT scans of his head confirmed intraparenchymal bleeding and multiple areas of subarachnoid hemorrhage. Over the next couple of days, doctors informed the family that Garza was not a surgical candidate due to his compromised cardiological condition. The family agreed to conservative care, and Garza soon died. Garza incurred approximately $40,000.00 in medical bills.
The parties settled for a confidential amount.