Jim Dey: Visit to the bathroom leads to a trip to court

Jim Dey: Visit to the bathroom leads to a trip to court

It's not often that toilet paper turns into legal paper, but it happens.

Dee Robbins of Champaign can tell you all about it. Her allegedly unlucky visit to a bathroom stall at the Meijer on North Prospect Avenue in Champaign has produced one of the more unusual lawsuits of the year. So far, it's produced a blizzard of paper exchanged by the lawyers in the case, plus a juicy dash of acrimony.

"The conduct of (Meijer) is reprehensible and attorney's fees and costs should be assessed against (it), especially in light of the affirmative defenses that they have filed that are in bad faith," wrote Urbana lawyer Jeff Frederick, who is representing Robbins.

But we're getting ahead of ourselves a bit. The liability lawsuit, which was filed in April 2013, stems from a April 19, 2011, visit by Robbins to the store.

During her visit, Robbins went to Meijer's bathroom and selected a stall that contained an allegedly dangerous toilet paper dispenser; the toilet paper dispenser cover apparently was loose and had been covered with duct tape that the lawsuit alleges "failed to fix it in a safe, suitable and proper manner."

During the course of Robbins' visit to the allegedly unsafe stall, the dispenser cover fell and struck Robbins in the face and nose.

Frederick's lawsuit seek damages in excess of $50,000 for his client's medical and hospital costs, physical and emotional pain, disability and disfigurement.

Represented by Lindsay Watson of the Chicago-based Hunt Group, Meijer is denying knowledge of the details surrounding the allegations while alternatively suggesting that Robbins brought her injuries on herself by negligent conduct in the bathroom stall.

Meijer also has posed a series of questions to Robbins, wondering if she has a criminal record, has ever filed other civil lawsuits, sought worker's compensation for job-related injuries, was drinking on the day of the injury or has filed for bankruptcy.

On its face, the lawsuit looks unusual. But Frederick, Robbins' lawyer, said "it's not as bad as it sounds."

"(Bathroom injuries) happen all the time. Bathrooms can be dangerous," Frederick said.

He recalled one case where a disabled person slipped and fell on a bathroom floor still slick from mopping.

The lawsuit does, however, raise a question. Given the general location of toilet paper dispensers in bathroom stalls, how does one get hit in the head by a falling dispenser cover.

"That's a good question," Frederick said.

He alleges that this dispenser was unusually high off the ground, "located a good foot above the grab bar" attached to the bathroom wall.

Frederick said he has pictures to prove Meijer's negligence. The store vehemently rejects Robbins' claim. Circuit Judge Michael Jones is refereeing this legal wrestling match, which is still in the discovery phase.

Jim's Pseudo-Intellectual Book Club — Christmas recommendations

Just a handful of days left until Christmas, and some people haven't finished their shopping. In that spirit, this pseudo-intellectual offers some book recommendations for the intellectual lightweights in your life:

Biography

Last year, I recommended "The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt" by Edmund Morris. It's a spectacular book about an incredible character, taking TR from birth to his ascent to the presidency after the assassination of President William McKinley. I still recommend it.

But for the sake of something new, this year I suggest Doris Kearns Goodwin's new book, "The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft and the Golden Age of Journalism."

It's been favorably reviewed and, if it's like Goodwin's previous works, it's a sure winner. Besides, anything with TR has to be fun.

History

"Those Angry Days: Roosevelt, Lindbergh, and America's Fight Over World War II, 1939-1941" by Lynne Olson is a page-turning history of the bitter battle between the interventionists, led tepidly by President Franklin Roosevelt, and the isolationists, led ferociously by American flying hero Charles Lindbergh, prior to World War II. This is a chapter in U.S. history mostly lost to collective memory because the country's deeply conflicted attitudes prior to World War II changed immediately after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.

Sports

A new biography of baseball slugger Ted Williams should entertain the average baseball fan. The greatest hitter ever was a mercurial character on and off the field. Ben Bradlee Jr.'s "The Kid" tells the inside story of the man who had the nerve to tell one of his wives that she held spot No. 3 on his priority list. Baseball and fishing came ahead of her.

Detective fiction

Michael Connelly has a new addition to his Mickey Haller lawyer series, "The Gods of Guilt." The prolific former newspaper crime reporter turned novelist produces police procedurals starring L.A. police detective Harry Bosch and courtroom adventures featuring ethics-free lawyer Mickey Haller. If you haven't read any of either series, start at the beginning.

If none of those recommendations suit your fancy, check out my pseudo-intellectual book blog at news-gazette.com. There's a long list of mostly nonfiction books to consider.

Jim Dey, a member of The News-Gazette staff, can be reached by email at jdey@news-gazette.com or at 351-5369.

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Dann001 wrote on December 22, 2013 at 12:12 am

C'mon Jeff, you can't be serious. If this isn't the epitome of the proverbial "Ambulance Chasing Attorney",  I don't what is? The standard "Grab Bar" is no more than 36" above a floor. You alledgedly stated that the dispenser was a good foot above the "Grab Bar". That would make it approximately 4 ft. high. So, is your client under 4 ft. tall or is he/she/it walking on all fours? This is a perfect example of "Tying Up Yhe Courts Time" with frivolous lawsuits which make it harder for legitimate cases to be heard. I would hope that Mike chastises you in the harshest way for this ridiculous stunt!

EdRyan wrote on December 22, 2013 at 7:12 am

$50K for being hit with a falling tp dispenser cover at first glance looks very high, but then on second thought, considering the sky high cost of medical care, it might not be so crazy.  A trip to an emergency room and a few stitches for an uninsured person can result in an astronomical medical bill.