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$6.7M Massachusetts Wrongful Death Award Over Northeastern University’s 2007 Boston Fall Accident in Bar Goes to State’s Supreme Judicial Court

On January 7, oral arguments are scheduled to begin in the appeal of Our House East bar and its owners over a $6.7M Boston stairwell accident death award granted to the family of Northeastern University student Jacob Freeman. The 21-year-old died in 2007 two days after he fell down the stairs leading to the basement of the popular pub and restaurant and sustained a serious head injury. The case is before Massachusetts’s Supreme Judicial Court.

Although the jury found the defendants not liable in Freeman’s fatal Boston fall accident, Judge Elizabeth Fahey ordered the bar and its owners to pay $6.7M in damages. She said that the pub’s failure to get the necessary permit for the stairs was a violation of Massachusett’s consumer protection laws and that there had been a lack of compliance with state building code.

The defendants, however, are appealing the award. They contend that seeing as jury did not find them liable for Freeman’s fatal fall, Fahey’s decision to impose damages was a mistake. They also maintain that customers were not allowed on the stairs. Meantime, the Massachusetts premises liability lawyers of Freeman’s family remain adamant that the judge’s decision to issue the award was a well-thought-out ruling.

During the Boston wrongful death trial, witnesses noted that there was no door separating the top of the stairs from the rest of the building so that staff could bring supplies through. The bar’s managers also allegedly knew that it wasn’t uncommon for customers to go to the area near the stairs to talk on cell phones and disregarded warnings by employees that the area was unsafe. (Freeman’s friends have said that he went to the back of the restaurant to take a call and was later discovered at the bottom of the staircase.)

Fahey agreed that the steps were hazardous and found that the vinyl strips that were in the place of what should have been a door had obstructed Freeman’s view of the stairs, which she says were inadequately lit, lacked a landing, and had only one railing even though the stairs, which she described as an “accident waiting to happen,” required two.

Mass. bar challenges $6.7M award in student’s fall, Boston.com, December 25, 2012

$6.8 Million Boston Wrongful Death Judgment Awarded Over NU Student’s Fatal Fall Down Bar Stairs, Boston Injury Lawyer Blog, February 27, 2011