ALBUQUERQUE (KRQE) - A mistake of inches--a handrail not quite long enough--cost an elderly woman her life at a senior living community, an Albuquerque jury has decided.
And that is going to cost the owner of Three Fountains Apartments a bundle.
Gene Marie Gann, an 86-year-old resident of the community near Wyoming and Menaul NE, would take a short flight of stairs every Friday on the way to her appointment at a salon in the same building.
The hand railing stopped just short of the top step.
"When she got to the top because the railing wasn't there, she lost her balance and fell backwards," attorney Feliz Rael told KRQE News 13.
The fall killed her.
Three fountains declined to comment for our story.
"They had the mistaken impression that the ADA was something that only applied to new buildings, and that's just not the case," Rael said. "It applies to existing buildings.
"The Americans with Disabilities Act was a civil rights act, and the purpose of it was to allow people with disabilities to participate in American life."
Jurors had the job of coming up with the judgment amount. In the end, they chose $1.86 million.
"They wanted to convey that an 86-year-old woman's life was priceless. It's meaningful," Rael said adding she had spoken with jurors after the verdict.
But it's a bittersweet win especially for Gann's friend Shirley Martin who witnessed her fall.
"I'm 94 and enjoying my life," Martin said. "She was younger and had several years left to enjoy life, but it was cut short tragically."
The jury decided Gann was partially at fault because she could have waited for someone to help her. As a result the company won't have to pay a small percentage of the damages.
The building owner has asked for bids on new railings.
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