DANVERS — More than a dozen years ago, an elderly Peabody man was walking back to his car after shopping at the Target store in Danvers. He was about to make history.
Emanuel Papadopoulos, who was better known on the North Shore as oil dealer Mike Pappas, was 76 at the time.
He had been careful to wear “rubbers,” the shoe coverings popular a couple of generations ago, and had been careful to avoid the ice and snow still clinging to the parking lot, according to a deposition. But he didn’t notice the dirty patch of ice until it was too late. He fell and broke his hip.
His accident led to a dramatic change in the legal standard for proving negligence in slip-and-fall cases involving ice and snow back in 2010. After he and his wife sued, a Suffolk Superior Court judge threw out the case, based on the old standard that property owners weren’t liable for injuries caused by a “natural accumulation” of snow and ice. There were lots of disputes over just what constitutes a “natural accumulation.”
Then the Supreme Judicial Court stepped in and created a new standard, one that called for property owners to be more vigilant in clearing snow and ice.
“It’s good law,” said Papadopoulos’ lawyer, Emmanuel Papanickolas. “It’s common sense. I know the insurance companies don’t like it, but so what?”
When the case finally went to trial, in 2013, a Suffolk Superior Court jury sided with Papadopoulos’ family. Papadopoulos and his wife had died while awaiting their day in court. They awarded $212,846 in damages to the couple’s daughters.
Target appealed, and the damages were reduced to $177,276,
But the retailer wasn’t done. Target’s lawyers then asked Judge Linda Giles to set aside the jury’s verdict, something rarely done and only with “the utmost judicial circumspection,” the SJC has said.
Giles, however, did just that, vacating the jury’s verdict.
On Friday, the Appeals Court found that was wrong.
The court found that instead of considering the evidence in the light most favorable to Papadopoulos, Judge Giles had engaged in her “own less favorable characterization of the facts,” including offering up alternative theories as to why the ice was in the parking lot, including theories the jury had rejected.
The Appeals Court reinstated the jury’s verdict and the award.
“Great,” said Papanickolas, the attorney, when he learned of the decision. “I had quite a long battle getting the SJC to reverse their outlook about these types of cases, and then I had to go out and try the case. And then the judge took it away.”
The 2010 decision, he said, is one of the things he is most proud of in his 55-year legal career.
On his near-daily walks through downtown Peabody this winter, “I have never seen the sidewalks so clear of snow,” he said.
Papanickolas said that with interest, the daughters of Papadopoulos will receive about $400,000.
Staff Writer Julie Manganis can be reached at 978-338-2521, via email at email@example.com or on Twitter @SNJulieManganis.