Stock v. Morizzo d/b/a Village Hair Studio, Karen Danzer, Meinrad Danzer, and Howard Touhey

On March 15, 2003, plaintiff Katharine Stock, a teacher in her 50s, visited Village Hair Studio, which is located at 53155 Main Road, in Southold, Long Island, New York. While Stock’s hair was being shampooed, she was struck by a cabinet that had fallen off of a nearby wall. Stock sustained an injury of her head. Stock sued Village Hair Studio; its operators, Karen Danzer, Meinrad Danzer and Nichol Morizzo; the person who installed the cabinet, Howard Touhey; and the company that designed the cabinet, Freeport-based Mr. Beauty Equipment Ltd.

Stock alleged that Village Hair Studio’s staff negligently overloaded the cabinet; that Karen Danzer, Meinrad, Danzer, Nichol Morizzo and Village Hair Studio were vicariously liable for the actions of the studio’s staff; that Touhey was negligent in his installation of the cabinet; that Mr. Beauty Equipment was negligent in its design of the cabinet; that Mr. Beauty Equipment failed to provide warnings that adequately disclosed the hazards that could have stemmed from the cabinet’s use; and that the cabinet’s failure constituted a breach of the product’s warranty.

Stock’s counsel claimed that the cabinet was intended to hold towels, but that the studio’s staff had inserted a stereo and bottles of shampoo. Stock’s expert engineer opined that the cabinet was not properly mounted. He noted that the mounting was accomplished via the installation of several screws. He contended that the screws gradually slipped through the cabinet’s supporting panel, and he claimed that the slippage could have been prevented by the installation of washers. He also claimed that one screw was not inserted in a stud. Stock’s expert engineer further opined that the cabinet’s design should have included a brace or a similar device that would have allowed a more secure mounting. However, Mr. Beauty Equipment’s counsel contended that a brace should have been applied during the installation of the cabinet. He noted that Touhey is a professional installer, and he argued that Touhey should have ascertained that a brace was necessary. Touhey’s counsel contended that the cabinet was properly installed. He claimed that the cabinet’s detachment was a result of it having been overloaded.

Injuries/Damages

Brain damage; cognition, impairment; depression; head; headaches; memory, impairment; nausea; photophobia; speech/language, traumatic brain injury

The trial was bifurcated. Damages were not before the Court. Stock’s head was struck by the falling cabinet. She was placed in an ambulance, and she was transported to a hospital, where she underwent minor treatment.

Stock claimed that her injury caused damage of her brain. She contended that the damage caused immediate, permanent residual effects that include dizziness, headaches, nausea, photophobia, and impairment of her memory, her speech and other elements of her cognition. She claimed that her residual effects prevent her operation of cars, that they prevent her resumption of work and that they impair her ambulation. She also claimed that her residual effects have caused an onset of depression. She has undergone psychiatric treatment.

Stock sought recovery of about $280,000 for past lost earnings, about $1.6 million for future lost earnings, and damages for past and future pain and suffering. Her husband sought recovery of damages for loss of consortium.

The defendants’ expert neuropsychologist submitted a report in which he opined that Ms. Stock did not sustain neurological trauma. He noted that witnesses reported that she did not experience amnesia or unconsciousness, and he concluded that her injury was nothing more than a mild concussion.

Result

The jury rendered a mixed verdict. It found that Mr. Beauty Equipment was entirely liable for the accident. Liability was not assigned to Touhey, Karen Danzer, Meinrad Danzer, Nichol Morizzo or Village Hair Studio. Prior to the start of the trial’s second phase, the parties negotiated a settlement. Mr. Beauty Equipment’s insurer agreed to pay $1.2 million from policies that provided several million dollars of coverage.

Case Notes

Supreme Court of the State of New York – County of Suffolk
Index No.: 16290/2003
Judge: W. Gerard Asher
Mixed Verdict – March 18, 2013
Responsible Partner: Randy S. Faust
Client: Harleysville Group Inc.
Opposing Counsel: Christopher A. Marothy, Dubow, Smith & Marothy, Bronx, NY