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Jury decides liability for mall owners after serious brain injury. Hedges v. Planned Sec. Serv., 140 N.Y.S.3d 487 (N.Y. App. Div. 2021)


The case of Marion Hedges is both tragic and complex. It began on a normal day at a shopping mall when two young boys threw a shopping cart over a fourth-floor railing. This cart struck Marion Hedges, who was at a parking kiosk on the first floor. The impact caused severe injuries to Hedges, leading to an extensive legal battle involving multiple parties.

Background Facts
Plaintiff Marion Hedges was critically injured at a shopping mall when two 12-year-old boys threw a shopping cart from the fourth floor, striking her as she stood by a parking kiosk on the first floor. The incident resulted in severe brain injury and other physical trauma. The mall, owned by Tiago Holdings, LLC, and several other entities collectively referred to as Owner Defendants, was allegedly aware of prior similar mischievous activities by youths at the location. Security at the mall was managed by Planned Security Service, Inc. (PSS), which was contracted to provide safety measures but reportedly had limited authority to make substantial security enhancements or structural changes.

Prior to the incident, there had been several reports of objects being thrown from the upper levels of the mall, indicating a recurring security issue. Despite these warnings, the necessary preventive steps, such as enhancing railing heights or increasing security personnel, were not implemented by the Owner Defendants or PSS. This negligence set the stage for the tragic event that left Marion Hedges with life-altering injuries, sparking a lawsuit against the parties involved for failing to secure the premises adequately.

Marion Hedges sustained severe brain injuries from the incident, resulting in permanent damage. Her injuries significantly affected her cognitive and physical abilities, impacting her vision, balance, coordination, and speech. She also suffers from incontinence, difficulties in controlling emotions, decision-making, memory loss, and persistent headaches. These consequences are profound and lifelong, altering her ability to function normally and diminishing her quality of life.

The case went to trial, and the jury determined that the defendants were liable for Marion Hedges’ injuries. The liability was apportioned as follows: 65% against the Owner Defendants, 25% against Planned Security Service, Inc., and 10% against nonparty tortfeasors. Marion Hedges was awarded $14.5 million for future pain and suffering and $1.9 million for past and future lost earnings, alongside $3,175,500 for a home health aide. Additionally, her husband, Michael Hedges, received $2 million for past and future loss of services and society. The defendants appealed, challenging the jury’s allocation of liability and the amount of damages awarded, arguing that both were excessive given the facts presented at trial.

Whether the jury’s apportionment of liability and the damages awarded are supported by the evidence and consistent with legal standards.

The court found the Owner Defendants 65% liable and PSS 25% liable, with the nonparty tortfeasors—the young boys—bearing the remaining 10% of the fault. This apportionment was based on the roles and responsibilities each party had regarding mall security and infrastructure.

The court upheld the jury’s decision, affirming that the evidence presented at trial sufficiently supported the findings of liability and damages. It reasoned that the owner defendants, aware of prior dangerous incidents at the mall, had a duty to implement preventive measures but failed to do so. This negligence was seen as a direct contributor to the hazardous environment that led to Marion Hedges’ injuries. The court found the jury’s allocation of liability appropriate, reflecting the relative responsibility of each party, including the security company’s limited role compared to the mall owners. The damages awarded were deemed proportionate to the severe and lasting impact on Marion’s health and wellbeing.

This case highlights the critical importance of property owners and managers maintaining safe environments in public spaces in order to avoid premises liability. If you or a loved one has suffered a brain injury due to someone else’s negligence, it is vital to seek experienced legal representation. Contact a skilled New York brain injury lawyer who can provide guidance and help secure the compensation you deserve. This case not only highlights the need for diligent safety practices but also the complex dynamics of legal responsibility in case where someone is injured in a public space.

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