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Delivery Driver’s Nightmare: The Perils of Poorly Maintained Premises

Delivery Driver’s Nightmare: The Perils of Poorly Maintained Premises

Verdict: $8.2M Slip & Fall Case

Prior results do not guarantee a similar outcome.

With the increase in the popularity of food delivery apps, our city streets now bustle with delivery drivers every day of the week. And to bring us that freshly made meal, these members of the gig economy are confronted with a myriad of dangers on a daily basis – from physical assault to robberies and carjackings.

Another risk that delivery workers face is poorly maintained or unsafe conditions in the premises they frequent to make their pick ups. Often, such on-site hazards are not self-evident and openly visible.

Not Simply a Twisted Ankle

For 45-year-old Uber Eats delivery driver Melissa Melvin a routine stop off at a Sunrise, FL iHop restaurant for a delivery pick up in June, 2021 would prove life altering. Having picked up two orders, she was on her way out of the restaurant carrying a couple bags of food and her cell phone, when she stepped on and slipped off a dangerously deteriorated step close to the building’s exit.

The trimalleolar ankle fracture that she suffered – where the ankle breaks in three separate places – is among the worst kinds of ankle fractures. For several weeks after the fall Melvin was wheelchair-bound. For six months, she was unable to climb stairs. Her recovery was slow and painful.

At the time of the fall, Melvin’s two boys had been aged eight and seventeen. Described as sweet and shy, she was an active mother and, at 6'1 in height, she enjoyed playing basketball with her sons. A modest but a tight-knit family, they had enjoyed simple pleasures like going to the park together. After the incident at IHOP, Melvin needed a cane to walk. Not only did the fall deprive her of the enjoyment of being able to spend active quality time with her children, she was unable to drive or return to work due to ongoing pain and swelling. Confined to her home, she now needed to find alternative care for her two children, including transportation to school.

Paltry Pre-trial Offer

Morgan & Morgan attorneys Carissa Peebles, Zeb Goldstein, Scott Henratty and Noah Pollock refused a settlement offer of $100,000 and headed to court, where they showed that Melvin’s injuries were the result of the negligent design and poor maintenance of the step in question. Aside from being in poor condition, the step measured only six inches in depth, violating building codes that require such steps to be at least 10 inches deep. In discovery, Peebles and her team uncovered that 40% of this iHop branch’s business at the time was for third party delivery companies, like Uber Eats and DoorDash. Consequently, 40% of the people walking out of the restaurant’s doors were carrying something and stepping on a hazardous and badly designed step.

Controlling the Narrative

Attorneys for the franchisee of the iHop franchise, Sunshine Restaurant Merger Sub, LLC, fought the case on both liability and damages, calling on the jury to refuse to award anything for Melvin’s injuries. The Morgan and Morgan team called all of the defense’s witnesses and corporate representatives. “The only witnesses they had to present were their two experts. And so I think it helped us control the narrative,” recalled Peebles.

The jury returned with a $8.2 million verdict for Melvin, sending the message that restaurants need to protect the delivery drivers who are coming to their premises to deliver their food to their customers. “We’re pleased the jury paid attention to the facts when this massive corporation tried to deflect blame onto our client,” noted Peebles, “and granted her some measure of relief for her medical bills and the ways in which her life has been permanently altered.