Refresh your driving skills and learn about new car technology with the AARP Driver Safety page.
by Robin Gerber, AARP Bulletin, January 11, 2010
Otha Stewart had been living with the effects of a stroke for 15 years when she began regularly attending an adult day care center operated by the University of Mississippi Medical Center. A van service run by the city of Jackson picked up Stewart, who was paralyzed along the right side of her body and needed a brace on her right leg and a four-pronged cane to walk, and brought her to the center and back home.
Stewart used the van service for four years without a problem, until one day in August 1997, when a substitute driver, Doris Spiller, picked her up at home. On arrival at the day care center, Spiller helped Stewart off the van and made sure she was steady, according to Spiller. As Spiller turned to help another passenger get off the van, Stewart began to walk toward the center but after a few steps, started to fall. Spiller reached out for her, but she was too late. Both women fell to the ground, and Stewart hit her head on the pavement.
Stewart was taken to the emergency room and released after doctors determined that she had no swelling in her head or elevated blood pressure. Her daughter, Emma Womack, was told to watch her for several days.
Although three days later Stewart was “still hurting and her head and legs were still bothering her,” Womack said, she decided to go back to the center. There, Stewart fell in the bathroom, but was unhurt and stayed for the rest of the day. At home that night, Stewart could not sleep and her head hurt. The next morning she was disoriented and could not keep her breakfast down.
Her daughter called an ambulance to take her to the emergency room, and she was released with prescriptions for pain relief and muscle relaxers. Stewart’s continuing complaints led her daughter to take her to another doctor for further tests. Don Gibson, M.D., a geriatric specialist, told Womack that her mother had suffered another massive stroke, “far worse than the one she had in the 1970s,” according to Womack.
She said …
Stewart sued the city of Jackson for negligence, asserting that her stroke was caused by the fall she took getting off the van. Stewart argued that the city had a responsibility to ensure her safety and an obligation to train all its drivers, even substitutes. Stewart told the court that Spiller should have received special training in helping older passengers. If she had, Spiller would not have left Stewart unattended after helping her off the van.
Stewart argued the stroke that was triggered when she fell led to her rapid decline. At the trial, Calvin Ramsey, M.D., Stewart’s family physician, said that the fall “caused a lump, contusions, [and] ended up with a stroke which changed her whole life.”
Stewart demanded the city pay damages for the effects of her stroke.
The city said …
The city of Jackson argued that even if the van service, and specifically Spiller, caused Stewart’s fall, the city was not liable for damages from the stroke because the law requires the injury to be foreseeable. Spiller would have had to know in advance that Stewart’s fall could cause a stroke.
In addition, the city argued that strokes are medical conditions, not normally caused by a fall. The city’s expert physician testified that “it would be extremely uncommon, almost unheard of for a minor fall to cause a stroke.”
Should Jackson, Miss., have to pay for Otha Stewart’s fall? How would you decide?
Robin Gerber is a lawyer and the author of Barbie and Ruth: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Doll and the Woman Who Created Her.
Please leave your comment below.
You must be logged in to leave a comment.
Members save up to $100 per person on select guided tours.
Members save 15% all day, every day at participating locations.
Members save 15% on in-store purchases of frozen yogurt, treats and apparel.
AARP members receive exclusive member benefits & affect social change.
You are leaving AARP.org and going to the website of our trusted provider. The provider’s terms, conditions and policies apply. Please return to AARP.org to learn more about other benefits.
Your email address is now confirmed.
Manage your email preferences and tell us which topics interest you so that we can prioritize the information you receive.
Explore all that AARP has to offer.
In the next 24 hours, you will receive an email to confirm your subscription to receive emails
related to AARP volunteering. Once you confirm that subscription, you will regularly
receive communications related to AARP volunteering. In the meantime, please feel free
to search for ways to make a difference in your community at