$2 Million settlement case stud. Attorneys Melissa Mosier and Fay Johnson of Joye Law Firm

There’s a reason the United States Marines have used the recruiting slogan, “the few, the proud, the Marines.” The Marine Corps has always been an elite and exclusive fighting force – one which Sgt. Garcia always wanted to be a part of, and one to which he intended to dedicate his life. However, a preventable accident at a Myrtle Beach resort irreconcilably changed the trajectory of Garcia’s future in the fall of 2017.

In this case study we will explore the premises liability claim that resulted from Garcia’s career-ending injury in Myrtle Beach. This case emphasizes how attorneys must look beyond medical bills to understand the true value of a case. This personal injury case was handled by Joye Law Firm attorneys Melissa Mosier, of our Columbia office, and Fay Johnson, of our Myrtle Beach office along with assistance from Case Manager Ashley Graham. The name of the resort in question has been withheld for confidentiality reasons.

Broken Glass Causes Life-Altering Tendon Injury

On the day of the incident, Sgt. Garcia, along with another Marine and both of their wives, decided to take an impromptu trip to Myrtle Beach, just a few hours drive from where they were stationed at Camp Lejeune. After a long day of fun in the sun, the couples searched for a nearby hotel offering pool and hot tub access that they could enjoy late into the evening. Thinking they’d found the perfect spot to relax and enjoy their night; the group eagerly booked a suite at a nearby hotel that advertised late pool and hot tub access.

When the couples arrived at the hotel’s pool deck, instead of the relaxing setting they had pictured, they found themselves in the midst of a raucous scene. A crowd of guests from a wedding the hotel was hosting began to gather, and they were becoming increasingly boisterous. After a fight broke out, and with no hotel staff in the vicinity, the couples cut their night short, deciding to head back to their suite to avoid any trouble. Garcia was the first to exit the hot tub. As he rose, he almost immediately stepped on a clear glass bottle. His foot began to bleed profusely, and he was helped into the hotel by his friends.

Our client’s wife, a nurse, put her education to work. She applied pressure, elevated his foot, and bandaged his wound. The next morning when Garcia woke up, it was evident that this was not a mere cut, as he could not put any weight on it. The physically fit Marine was forced to request a wheelchair from the hotel just to exit his suite.

When the group returned to base, Garcia headed directly to the military base emergency room. While dealing with excruciating pain, his foot was x-rayed and stitched up. It was “…probably in the top five worst pain I’ve ever been in, in my life,” recalled Garcia during his deposition. Roughly a month later after sutures were removed, he noted he could no longer move the 3rd digit of his right foot, and experienced pain when he tried to run. He underwent an MRI, which confirmed he had suffered a complete tear of the 3rd digital flexor tendons in his right foot. The imaging also showed bone marrow edema (swelling) at the plantar aspects of the middle metatarsal heads.  The chances of a full recovery were slim.

Foot Injury Ends a Promising Military Career

Our client dedicated his life to the Marines and planned to serve until retirement. He graduated in the top 5% of his class in Marine Basic Training and the Basic MOS (Military Occupational Specialties) 35 course. His performance valuations repeatedly placed him in the above-average to well-above-average range. Sgt. Garcia was in excellent physical condition, scoring high on all fitness tests. He was individually awarded twelve awards, badges, and ribbons for exceptional performance and service, including the Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal. A year prior to the incident, he was promoted to Sergeant E-5. Just three weeks before the incident, he had completed all his necessary education and time in service requirements to be considered for a promotion to SSG E-6.  Sadly, it would never happen.

His injury required surgical repair outside of the military surgeon’s expertise, so he was sent to a civilian surgeon for further evaluation. During this time, he continued limited duty assignment due to his injury. He underwent the recommended surgery in early 2018. Unfortunately, it did not go as planned. Despite his doctors’ best efforts, the flexor tendons were damaged beyond surgical repair. The treating physician opined that Garcia would most likely continue to have permanent numbness in his foot.

Garcia tried everything he could to spark a recovery, but continued to experience foot pain and difficulty performing the necessary duties of his position with the Marine Corps well after his surgery. He was unable to keep up with his physical fitness tests, and with his MOS as a driver, a permanent injury to his right foot proved devastating to his career. On April 23, 2018, the Physical Evaluation Board of the military determined that Garcia was permanently disabled and recommended medical retirement from active duty. This news was completely Earth-shattering to the then-25-year-old, who dreamed of being a career Marine.

Compensation for Negligent Business Practices

In the initial demand letter to the defense council, Attorneys Mosier and Johnson argued that the liability in the case was squarely on the hotel for not ensuring that the pool deck was safe for guests. “A business owner owes an affirmative duty to provide reasonably safe premises for use of the invitee, and to refrain from any act which may make the invitee’s use of the premises dangerous or result in injury to him,” Garvin v. Bi-Lo, Inc., 337 S.C. 436, 523 S.E.2d 481 (Ct. App. 1999). Our attorneys argued that the hotel failed to take simple steps to monitor and clean up the pool and hot tub area, which would have ensured that it was free of glass and other hazards for unsuspecting hotel patrons. With just “mood lighting” around the hot tub area in the evening, the perfect environment existed for a first-time guest, not expecting glass in the pool area, to be injured by a clear glass bottle that was there prior to his arrival.

While the hotel had “no glass” signs up around the pool, signs do little good when the hotel simultaneously puts glass in the hands of its patrons just steps away from the pool and hot tubs, and fails to monitor them. It is entirely foreseeable, our attorneys argued, that guests provided glass bottles and glass service ware could and would carry and leave those items all over the premises, including the pool deck and hot tub area. Therefore, regular checks should be made to keep the premises reasonably safe. The hotel failed to take reasonable steps to prevent foreseeable harm caused by the failure to monitor and enforce the hotel’s “no glass” rules. As a result, a young man’s military career was needlessly cut short. If the safety checks had been done, tremendous harm could have been avoided.

The defense claimed they did not know the incident had happened, and had no notice of the dangerous condition. However, Attorneys Mosier and Johnson uncovered evidence that for days leading up to the Garcia’s impromptu visit, the hotel was on notice that guests were leaving glass in and around the pool areas. During the course of their investigation, the attorneys also found prior incident reports that indicated glass in and around the pool and hot tub areas was a known safety issue. Even though the hotel knew about this safety issue for years, it chose to continue to sell beverages in glass containers and serve guests with glassware. The attorneys also pushed back on the hotel’s claim that they were not notified of Garcia’s injury. Despite immediately reporting his injury to the hotel’s front desk attendant and requesting a wheelchair the next morning, neither hotel employee Garcia interacted with created an incident report or notified management.

When confronted with the overwhelming evidence during a mediation in 2022, the hotel’s insurance carrier opted to settle. They paid the initial liability claim utilizing the entire $1,000,000 policy limit, this victorious milestone set the stage for the next phase of the case.

Umbrella Policy Claim and a Trial Date is Set

After receiving $1,000,000 in damages for our client, Attorneys Mosier and Johnson set their sights on the excess coverage available. Sgt. Garcia will have to suffer the repercussions of this injury his entire life. Since the case began, Garcia became a father, and the ability to play with, protect, and provide for his children is now greatly diminished due to the negligence of this business. The massive loss of earning potential for our client as well as the pain and suffering associated with this preventable injury justified continuing the fight for compensation.

As they prepared for the trial, Mosier worked closely with multiple expert witnesses, including an expert on military retirement benefits. Assembling a team of experts can be expensive, and attorneys have no guarantee that they will win a settlement large enough that the attorney fees will cover all these expenses.  Despite the risk, Joye Law Firm made the investment, knowing it was in the client’s best interest.

“Assembling that team of experts was critical. Being willing to go all in on your big cases means you have to win big and of all people, this client deserved it,” recounts Attorney Mosier.

As the trial date neared, Attorneys Mosier and Johnson spent painstaking hours preparing their statements, questions, and witnesses. Garcia, his family, and key witnesses had flights and accommodation booked. However, the Friday before the trial was set to begin, the insurance company’s attorneys communicated a final settlement offer of $1,000,000, making the total settlement for Garcia $2,000,000. Resolving a case in the final days before a trial is common, however, without an impending trial, the defense often does not feel the same pressure to offer fair compensation. The defense likely knew that the optics of this case would not be in their favor, and they put out a last-ditch effort to resolve the case before appearing before a Horry County jury. Without attorneys Mosier and Johnson who have the experience and legal skills necessary to try a case in court, Garcia likely would not have received the settlement he did.

Forging a New Future and Holding Corporations Accountable

Over six years after the incident that changed our client’s life forever, he and his family can finally look toward the future. While he will continue to live with the physical and emotional pain that resulted from that evening in Myrtle Beach, this settlement will allow him to forge a new career path and continue to provide for his family.

In addition to compensating our client, this lawsuit contributed to lasting change in the at-fault business’s practices, lessening the possibility of future injuries on their property. Attorney Johnson says that this aspect of personal injury law drives her to continue fighting for her clients. “Yes, my fight is driven by my client and getting them justice, but my passion for our cause is fueled when these big corporations and companies implement change to protect people in the future from harm.” Since litigation began on this case, Attorney Johnson says that she has visited the property, and they have changed their pool hours to conform with industry standards, removed bottles of glass alcoholic beverages from their hotel lobby store, and implemented other provisions to prevent this type of accident from happening in the future.

Joye Law Firm has represented those injured due to the negligence and reckless behavior of others since first opening our doors in North Charleston in 1968. Since then, we have expanded to four additional offices across the state. Our firm is dedicated to making a positive impact in the lives of those who entrust us with the responsibility of holding negligent companies and individuals accountable for their actions. If you or a loved one suffered a life-altering injury at a South Carolina resort or other place of business, seek the justice your case deserves by contacting Joye Law Firm. We have team members standing by to take your call 24/7, and consultations are always free.

Disclaimer: past results do not guarantee future outcomes.