VALPARAISO | A Porter County jury awarded a Hobart woman $510,000 Friday afternoon as a result of injuries she suffered when stepping into a hole Dec. 14, 2012 outside the Wal-Mart store in Portage.
The award fell far short of the $5 million request made by 29-year-old Micela Earle, but was more than double the $200,000 a Wal-Mart attorney suggested to jurors during closing arguments earlier in the day.
Portage-based attorney Gregory Sarkisian argued Earle was entitled to the larger amount because she faces a lifetime of pain-related suffering, limitations and treatments as a result of Wal-Mart's negligence in removing a tree along a sidewalk and leaving a hole behind.
"This is about a normal citizen carrying the burden of an uncertain future," he said.
Yet Wal-Mart attorney James Balog placed the blame on Earle for failing to use reasonable care.
"She's not looking where she's going," he said after showing a surveillance video of the incident.
Balog argued a doctor hired by the store does not believe Earle suffered more than a sprained ankle, despite a diagnosis of a pain condition that resulted in her having a spinal cord stimulator implanted.
Sarkisian attempted to put the $5 million request into perspective by saying that no one would take that much money if they had to voluntarily endure the suffering and treatments Earle has been through. She faces many more years of improved, yet lingering problems that includes having new batteries installed every 10 years in her spinal cord stimulator.
"The value of money is all we can give her," he said.
Balog threw a piece of cardboard on the floor of the courtroom to show jurors the size of the metal grate surrounding the hole in question.
"The accident doesn't happen if she just looks down," he said.
The jury determined Wal-Mart was 85 percent to blame for the incident.
He defended the store's decision to shoot a surveillance video March 10 of Earle leaving a vehicle and using her leg to close the door.
Balog reminded jurors in Porter Superior Court they are not to treat his client any different than any other when considering the outcome of this week's civil case.
"The fact that Wal-Mart is the defendant has nothing to do with damages," he said.