Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2008

Appeals court rules in favor of Rockville

Says evidence is insufficient for jury trial for elderly woman who fell at Glenview Mansion

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Three years after a fall at Glenview Mansion that left 92-year-old Hanna Garval’s right hand ‘‘essentially useless,” a state appellate court ruled in favor of the City of Rockville, owner of the building.

Retired Judge Charles E. Moylan Jr. wrote in the Court of Special Appeals opinion that the three-member appellate panel agreed with the Montgomery County Circuit Court that there was no sufficient evidence to let a jury decide if the City of Rockville was at fault for Garval’s fall from steps leading to the Glenview Mansion’s lawn.

‘‘Did the appellant slip on something dropped by another guest? Nobody knows. Did the appellant simply get dizzy? Nobody knows. Was the cause of the fall an unsteady teetering on new shoes with 1 1⁄2-inch heels or having become entangled in a ballet-length full skirt or the pleasant elixir of a vintage Chardonnay at lunch or simply the vicissitudes of 92 years? Again, nobody knows,” Moylan wrote.

Garval’s lawyer, J. Edward Martin of Towson, did not find Moylan’s light-hearted opinion humorous.

‘‘It was more light-hearted than the tragedy of the situation would suggest to be appropriate,” Martin said. ‘‘Judge Moylan is a wonderful guy and brilliant writer, but [his] light-hearted tone was not dignified or appropriate.”

Martin said Garval incurred $90,000 in hospital fees for the fractures in her right arm, wrist and elbow, and that is what the lawsuit is trying to recover.

Garval, who lives in Florida, was in Rockville in May 2004 for a bar mitzvah reception at the Glenview Mansion. That day, she was stepping out onto the lawn from the mansion to join her daughter-in-law when she fell and injured herself, court records say.

In court, Garval argued that Rockville violated a building code, which requires handrails on staircases.

However, Moylan wrote that the law referenced does not include exterior stairways except those that are required exitways. The steps, which Garval claims caused her to fall, were not deemed a required exitway and therefore not subject to handrails, Moylan wrote.

Moylan also addressed the presence of a ‘‘highly visible and readily inviting ramp, fully wheelchair accessible, with sturdy handrails to both port and starboard” to her left.

Moylan said that when asked why she did not use the ramp, Garval replied, ‘‘Why would I need a ramp? That’s for people in a wheelchair.”

But ultimately, Moylan, like Circuit Court Judge Marielsa A. Bernard, based his opinion on the fact that there were no facts and not even Garval could remember details of the fall.

‘‘To establish a causative link under the circumstances would have been untethered speculation,” Moylan wrote.

Heather Mulloy, associate county attorney for Montgomery County who represented the City of Rockville, said the city was pleased with Moylan’s opinion.

‘‘We’re happy they took the time to note several other reasons why the case should have been kicked out,” Mulloy said.

A City of Rockville spokesman referred a call for comment to Mulloy.

Garval could take the case higher to the Court of Appeals if she chooses to, but Martin would not comment on whether they would do that.

‘‘She’s a remarkably, spry, articulate and mobile old lady,” Martin said.

He said Garval came to United States to escape the Nazi regime and has lived a good life until now.

‘‘We’re just looking to get the bills paid,” Martin said. ‘‘We’re not looking for a million dollars; I’m just trying to help a nice person.”