Indiana Court of Appeals Affirms $510,000 Jury Verdict for Woman in Indianapolis Slip-And-Fall Case

The Indiana Court of Appeals recently affirmed a jury’s $510,000 award in favor of an injured woman in a slip-and-fall case in Indianapolis, Indiana. In Mastellone v. Young Men’s Christian Ass’n of Greater Indianapolis, Jacqueline Mastellone (“Mastellone”) slipped and fell at an Indianapolis YMCA as she was walking back to a locker room after a swim class. The area where she fell did not have a slip-resistant mat. As part of a facility upgrade, the YMCA later replaced the flooring where Mastellone fell. Mastellone dislocated and fractured her left shoulder in the fall, which required a shoulder replacement, and she sued the YMCA for her injuries and damages.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of Mastellone calculating her total damages at $850,000, which was reduced to $510,000 based upon finding her 40% at fault and the YMCA 60% at fault. Prior to trial, the YMCA filed a motion in limine to exclude evidence as to the new floor installation. The trial court ordered it would allow evidence of the new floor installation, but it would not allow evidence that the flooring was changed. During trial, when Mastellone’s counsel asked a YMCA employee whether the flooring had been replaced, YMCA’s counsel objected, arguing the evidence was irrelevant and prejudicial. After the trial court indicated it would allow the question, YMCA’s counsel moved for a mistrial, which the trial court denied. In response to the question from Mastellone’s counsel, the YMCA employee testified the flooring had been replaced. YMCA’s counsel then elicited testimony that the flooring was not changed due to the fall but a facility upgrade. After the jury had reached a verdict but before reentering the courtroom, YMCA’s counsel then moved for a second mistrial after learning a piece of the flooring where Mastellone fell had not been sent back to the jury room. The trial court denied the second motion for mistrial because the jury had the opportunity to examine the flooring after it had been admitted as evidence.

After the jury verdict was read, the trial court stated it would enter judgement on the verdict, and then the trial court noted the entry of judgment on the docket, or chronological case summary (CCS). However, three days after the verdict, the trial court sua sponte (i.e., of its own accord) issued an Order Reconsidering Motion for Mistrial setting aside the jury’s verdict and the judgement. In its Order Reconsidering Motion for Mistrial, the trial court did not state which of the two motions for mistrial it had reconsidered, and it did not provide any reasoning. Mastellone appealed the Order Reconsidering Motion for Mistrial and the YMCA cross appealed arguing the trial court erred in denying its two mistrial motions and the verdict was excessive.

On appeal the Indiana Court of Appeals first found the trial court erred in granting a mistrial because, in failing to provide the reasons for a mistrial and the motion upon which such was based, it did not comply with the requirements of Indiana Trial Rule 59 for a motion to correct error. Since the trial court had entered a final judgment, it no longer had authority to reconsider its previous denials of YMCA’s mistrial motions. While courts are permitted to raise errors sua sponte, Indiana Trial Rule 59 states that the error raised “shall be stated in specific rather than general terms and shall be accompanied by a statement of the facts and grounds upon which the error is based.” Ind. Trial Rule 59(D). Indiana Trial Rule 59 also states that “[i]f corrective relief is granted, the court shall specify the general reasons therefor.” Indiana Trial Rule 59(J). Since the trial court did not comply with Indiana Trial Rule 59, the Court of Appeals, based upon Indiana Supreme Court precedent, reversed the trial court’s Order Reconsidering Motion for Mistrial and remanded to the trial court with instructions for the trial court to reinstate the jury’s verdict.

On the YMCA’s cross motions on appeal, the Indiana Court of Appeals found the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying the motions for mistrial and there was sufficient evidence to support the jury’s verdict. As to the YMCA’s first motion for mistrial based upon the trial court allowing evidence of the floor replacement, the Court found that, while the relevance of such evidence was marginal, any error was harmless, as Mastellone’s counsel only asked one question as to the floor replacement and YMCA’s counsel made clear on cross the replacement was not in response to the fall, and YMCA had not shown the probative value of such evidence was substantially outweighed by the danger of unfair prejudice, as it had not demonstrated what the unfair prejudice was. As to the YMCA’s second motion for mistrial based upon the jury not having a piece of the flooring during deliberations, the Court noted YMCA had cited no case supporting a mistrial under such circumstances, and there was no indication the jury failed to take the evidence into consideration. Lastly, the Court found the jury award was supported by sufficient evidence, noting the extensiveness of Mastellone’s injuries and damages, including, among other things, her shoulder dislocation, fracture, and surgical replacement, her pain, her treatment, her permanent lifting limitations, how her injuries affected her life, and the possibility of additional surgery.

You can read the full opinion here.

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