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Young man fell to his death after deck rail broke off – $900,000 Settlement

On Jan. 17, 2014, the decedent, Peter Thornton and his girlfriend, were invited guests at the residence of Brian Landergan. The residence was owned by Landergan’s parents. Just after midnight on Jan. 18, 2014, Thornton and Landergan walked out of the house and onto the back wooden deck. The deck was one story above the ground and sat over a concrete pad.

While standing on the deck, Thornton and Landergan leaned against the railing. When they did so, the railing collapsed and both men fell off the deck. Landergan hit the ground and suffered only minor injuries. Thornton, however, landed on his head on the concrete pad below and suffered a catastrophic brain injury and ultimately died from his injuries.

Plaintiff’s complaint alleged that the deck was negligently designed, built, repaired and maintained. The complaint further alleged that each of the defendants knew or should have known about the defective condition of the deck, but that it was not open and obvious to guests such as Thornton.

At the time of his death, Thornton lived with his parents. In addition, they were his only statutory beneficiaries, and there were no individuals who were financially dependent upon Thornton at the time of his death. Accordingly, while Thornton was in the early stages of what promised to be a very successful real estate career, the case was largely one of “solace damages.”

The Virginia Military Institute played a significant part in the Thornton family’s lives. Accordingly, a scholarship fund was created in the name of Peter P. Thornton, and a portion of the settlement funds are being used to fund the scholarship.

Related story: Fatal fall from deck leads to $900,000 settlement



Type of action: Wrongful death – premises liability
Injuries alleged: Traumatic brain injury and death
Name of case: Thornton v. Landergan
Court: Lynchburg Circuit Court
Case no.: CL15000524
Tried before: Judge
Judge: F. Patrick Yeatts
Date resolved: Aug. 13, 2015
Verdict or settlement: Settlement
Amount: $900,000
Attorneys for plaintiff: Matthew W. Broughton and Gregory D. Habeeb, Roanoke
Attorneys for defendant: John D. McGavin and Mark D. Quist, Fairfax
Plaintiff’s experts: Joseph Miller, deck construction and maintenance; Frank Woeste, deck construction and maintenance; Peder Melberg, vocational therapy; Larry Lynch, economist

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