Nebraska Woman Wins Right to Sue After Elevator Injury

By MARGERY A. BECK | October 31, 2011

A woman seriously injured in a fall down an empty elevator shaft at her workplace can sue a real estate company operated by her employers, the Nebraska Supreme Court said Friday.

Darlene Howsden was an employee of a Lincoln funeral home in 2009 when she went to cut through a makeshift hallway often used by employees. The hallway was created in an elevator shaft by the top of an elevator car that usually rested on the building’s basement floor. However, the car had been moved unbeknownst to Howsden, and she fell 16 feet to the building’s basement floor.

Howsden received workers’ compensation, but sued the real estate company that owned the mortuary to recover additional damages. The company, Roper’s Real Estate, is owned and operated by the same shareholders as Roper & Sons Inc., which operated the mortuary.

Roper’s argued it essentially was the same company as the mortuary, making workers’ comp Howsden’s sole remedy for damages.

But the state’s high court disagreed, saying Roper’s Real Estate is a separate entity from the funeral home, despite their corporate kinship.

“One cannot claim the benefits of incorporation without the burdens,” Supreme Court Judge John Gerrard wrote for the high court. “So, when two companies are corporations which benefit from legally recognized identities separate and apart from one another, they must also bear the responsibility and liability of such separation.”

Joel Bacon, a Lincoln attorney for Howsden, said Friday he had not had a chance to tell Howsden the news of the opinion in her favor, but said he is certain she will be pleased. She intends to sue for unspecified damages, including lost wages and pain and suffering for the back injuries she received and that still plague her, Bacon said.

James Snowden, an attorney for Roper’s, did not immediately return a message left Friday by The Associated Press seeking comment.

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