Student Settles Injury Claim for Falling through a Skylight for $11.6 Million

A University of Pennsylvania student, who suffered devastating injuries in an off-campus accident, has settled her injury claim for falling through a skylight just days before the case was due to go to trial.

Lorna Bernhoft was just 20 years of age and a junior student at the University of Pennsylvania when, in October 2010, she attended an a cappella gathering at a student residence on South 42nd Street, Philadelphia. Later in the evening, Lorna moved up to a fourth storey attic room, where she went to sit on a board on the floor, not realizing that the board covered an open skylight.

As Lorna sat, the ¾ inch flex board slipped from underneath her, and Lorna fell fifteen feet through the open skylight, landing on her tailbone on the staircase below, and then continuing to fall down the stairs – hitting her head as she landed at the foot of the stairs. Lorna was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania with a broken back and head injuries, and was kept alive with the help of a breathing tube and oxygen mask.

Unfortunately for Lorna, the accident resulted in her losing the use of her legs; and, although she recovered sufficiently to graduate from Stanford University and take a job in Boston, she is now confined to a wheelchair.

After being discharged from hospital, Lorna sought legal advice and made an injury claim for falling through a skylight against the owners of the property – Joseph, Irene and Jennifer Palmer, trading as Palmer Apartments – on the grounds that the Palmers were aware of the hazard and had done nothing to repair the condition of the floor where the skylight was situated.

The Palmers denied sole liability for Lorna´s injuries, and filed a joinder complaint against thirteen previous tenants of the property who – it was claimed – had failed to report the hazard to the property owners as was a condition of the lease agreement. Lorna´s injury claim for falling through a skylight was further complicated by the fact that, on arrival at hospital, she had a 0.26 blood alcohol level and marijuana in her system.

Lorna´s lawyers persevered through an extensive period of mediation in order to conclude the case without it having to go to trial and, after negotiations between Lorna´s lawyers, fourteen defendants and eleven insurance companies, a settlement was reached which will see Lorna´s injury claim for falling the a skylight resolved for $11.7 million.