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Jury awards $1.5M to Fells Point restaurant employee seriously hurt in stair collapse

A dishwasher who was seriously injured when a set of stairs detached from the back of a Fells Point restaurant won a $1.5 million verdict in Baltimore Circuit Court this month.

The man’s lawsuit claimed that the stairs were negligently constructed and not in compliance with building codes, leading to the collapse.

The plaintiff, 55-year-old Amador Vargas Cano, suffered brain damage and injuries to his neck, back and shoulder when the stairs fell, according to his attorney, Divya Potdar.

“We are grateful to the jury who agreed that the defendants had constructed an unsafe staircase that eventually led to the horrific and permanent injuries to our client,” Potdar said.

“Our client is thankful for this verdict as he tries to live his life despite the injuries he sustained through no fault of his own.”

The defendants are Tom Brown Contracting, LLC and Michael Thomas, of Glen Burnie. Their attorney, Jennifer Rowlett, declined to comment because an appeal is pending.

Thames Street Oyster House, where the accident happened, was not a defendant in the lawsuit. The restaurant’s owner did not return a phone message seeking comment Tuesday.

The complaint alleged that Cano was working at the restaurant in Fells Point on Sept. 19, 2018, when he took his break on the stairs along the back of the building. As he sat on the second floor stairs, they detached from the structure and Cano fell 12 feet onto a concrete patio.

Debris from the flight of stairs landed on top of Cano, who was knocked unconscious for about a half hour. He was then taken to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where he was diagnosed with brain bleeding and fractures in his spine and ribs, according to the complaint.

Cano has permanent cognitive damage from the fall and continues to experience memory problems and light sensitivity, Potdar said.

The contractors built the three-story employee access stairway on the back of Thames Street Oyster House as part of a complete renovation of the building in 2010 and 2011. Potdar said that an investigation concluded that the defendants “had not built the stairs in accordance with the architect’s plans and, moreover, their work was not in compliance with the applicable building code or construction industry standards.”

A structural engineer who testified as an expert for Cano said the stairs from the second floor landing to the third flood landing had been negligently constructed, Potdar said. The flight of stairs was improperly connected to the landing, which caused the stairs to detach when Cano sat on them to take his meal break.

Jurors awarded Cano $1.5 million in noneconomic damages, though that total will likely be reduced under Maryland’s cap on noneconomic damages. The verdict came after a three-day trial and less than a half hour of deliberation, Potdar said.