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Plaintiff: Toyia Johnson

Defendants: D.C. Water and Sewer Authority (WASA)*, Ferrol Ware (Johnson’s landlord)

Damages Sought: $1 million, plus interest and legal costs

Complaint: In June 2005, Johnson was walking from her car at her Brookland home and stepped on a loose water meter cover. She fell, sustaining “severe, painful, permanent, and disabling injuries,” and had to take off from work to recover.

Quality of Legal Work: Good. Attorney Keith Winston Watters’ complaint is concise and well-organized. Some language is ambiguous, though. Johnson is portrayed as falling “into” the loose meter cover. Does “into” mean that Johnson collided with the meter cover? Does it mean her head, her arm, or some other extremity actually became lodged in the hole? The complaint also does not explain what Johnson’s injuries were or why those injuries prevented her from doing her job.

Our Summary Judgment: A million dollars for tripping? Johnson’s complaint fails to justify that amount, either by adding up the costs of medical bills and lost wages or by establishing that the defendants were willfully negligent enough to deserve punitive damages. Nor does the complaint make a solid argument that either party knew the broken meter cover was broken. But if the plaintiff can prove that, she gets damages equal to the amount of hospital bills, lost wages, and legal fees. Defendant WASA is further ordered to inspect each meter on the premises, and defendant Ware is ordered to educate tenants on the perils of tripping and falling therein. Defendants are further required to send plaintiff a card wishing full recovery.

* Though WASA has been an independent agency since 1996, it remains subject to strict District oversight.