Friday, January 18, 2008

Fall down, go BOOM

Hmmm? Someone will surely pay. The State or the County? Probably the County as they owned the building.

Judge sues over court mishap
Seeks coverage for knee injury

Few at the Norfolk Superior Court house in Dedham disputed that the worn and uneven front steps needed fixing. But when a judge in his late 60s tripped on them and broke his left kneecap more than three years ago, neither the state nor the county wanted to take responsibility for the condition of the steps.

Now the judge, Paul A. Chernoff, is suing both the state and the county to determine who is at fault.

Chernoff, who is about to retire, wants to know which party will cover his future medical bills if he develops arthritis in the damaged knee or requires a knee replacement.

"It's never going to be completely healed," said Chernoff's attorney, Leonard Kesten, explaining that judges in Massachusetts don't qualify for workers' compensation, which would have guaranteed coverage of future expenses. "It's the future ramification he's worried about."

The judge is seeking $10,000 for anticipated future medical and hospital expenses and $25,000 for pain and suffering, according to court documents, which state that the injuries have caused a permanent disability.

The suit also seeks to identify the responsible party. Thus far, said Kesten, "we have been unable to get an answer for who is responsible for those stairs."

Norfolk County owns the courthouse at 650 High St., but it is leased to the state. Norfolk County commissioners and officials from the state declined comment for this story.

The suit maintains that the state and the county breached their duty to maintain the courthouse by failing to ensure that the property was safe for pedestrians.

On the morning of June 30, 2004, Chernoff was returning to the Superior Court house after delivering instructions to a jury, which had gathered at the District Court house across the street. As Chernoff ascended the worn stone steps of the Superior Court - the same steps that spectators of the trial of Sacco and Vanzetti, the Italian anarchists, went up in the 1920s - he tripped and landed on his knee.

He didn't go to the hospital right away.