A rotted board on a small boardwalk could cost the city of Key West $98,000 to settle a case brought by an elderly Iowa man who broke his leg in 2013 when he fell through the structure.
Robert Kocher, 86, a retired college professor who lives in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with his wife of 65 years, Joan, agreed to the sum after court-supervised mediation Sept. 2 and signed the paperwork a week later.
The couple was visiting family in Key West on Feb. 17, 2013, when they went to Little Hamaca Park off Government Road, where a wooden deck borders the Riviera Canal.
“Robert took one step back with his right foot and fell through a rotten wooden plank,” wrote Chief Assistant City Attorney Ron Ramsingh, in a recent memo to the City Commission. “Robert fell in the hole all the way up to his upper thigh.”
The couple sued the city in county court March 16, 2015, citing negligence and loss of consortium for Joan Kocher. Because of health information privacy laws, the city’s legal team said it couldn’t go into more detail about Kocher’s injuries other than he returned home for “various medical procedures.”
Commissioners will decide at their 6 p.m. Tuesday meeting whether to sign off on the settlement to avoid a trial — which is set for Oct. 17 at the Monroe County Courthouse — where a verdict could amount to twice as large as the suggested payoff.
If approved by city leaders, the settlement would break down in two parts: Robert would get $97,999 for his injury while Joan would receive $1 for loss of consortium, a legal term meaning loss of normal marital relations, including sex. The maximum cap in this case is $200,000, said Ramsingh, adding Key West’s insurance will cover the $98,000.
Going to trial isn’t wise, Ramsingh told the City Commission in a recent memo, since “both plaintiffs will present well” and have the medical records to justify a claim.
“The demand prior to mediation was for $650,000, well above the statutory cap,” Ramsingh added.
Robert Kocher is a professor emeritus of art at Coe College in Cedar Rapids, having retired in 1996 after 30 years of teaching sculpture and other arts. He is a gallery-represented artist who works in mixed media.
Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen