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Court Dismisses Suit by Church Volunteer Hurt While Decorating for Easter

Case Study

Court Dismisses Suit by Church Volunteer Hurt While Decorating for Easter

March 6, 2019
Matthew G. Miller

Up until the day Goldberg Segalla partners Stewart G. Milch and Matthew G. Miller convinced an appeals court to dismiss a woman’s personal-injury suit against a Greek Orthodox Church in New York City, the plaintiff—a church volunteer who fell from a stepladder and fractured her heel while helping decorate the Epitaphios for Greek Easter—was demanding $750,000, non-negotiable. She fell because the ladder shook, she alleged. It was defective, her expert said.

Though the ultimately successful defense we mounted was fairly simple – we argued that the church didn’t supervise or control the decorating or have any way of knowing the ladder might be a problem because its purported defects weren’t noticeable — the case followed an oddly circuitous path fraught with difficult opposing counsel and an indecisive judge.

In late 2017 – after we persuaded the judge to dismiss the case in trial court and the plaintiff successfully moved to re-argue that decision and the judge said in open court that she intended to stand by her original decision dismissing the case, we got a surprise: One week later came a written decision from the judge in which she said she had changed her mind; now there was an order denying our motion, one that effectively breathed new life into the case. So we had to appeal. But we were ready.

At Goldberg Segalla, our appellate attorneys showcase what makes the firm different. Much more than a last line of defense, our appellate attorneys are key partners from the initial stages of litigation. The leaders of our Appellate Practice Group have a combined 90 years of legal experience and together have handled over 800 appeals and participated in drafting over 300 appellate decisions. The group includes former state Appellate Division staff attorneys.

It also includes Stu, who has handled complex litigation at the state and federal levels for more than two decades, and Matthew, a highly experienced trial attorney who focuses his practice on general liability, construction litigation, and product liability.

When Stu and Matthew appealed the trial-court judge’s decision in the church case, the plaintiff’s counsel tried to delay the process, hoping that the case would be sent for trial before the appeal was decided and that the church would be forced to settle. But the Appellate Division’s First Department dismissed the case and our client, once again, was in the clear.