IVO HENFLING | MAY 23, 2014
Haven’t we all heard of the “McDonald’s Hot Coffee Case”? Let me refresh your memory. In 1992, 79-year-old Stella Liebeck bought a cup of takeout coffee at a McDonald’s drive-thru in Albuquerque and spilled it on her lap. She sued McDonald’s and a jury awarded her nearly $3 million in punitive damages for the burns she suffered.
Now move forward to being in Costa Rica, on May 2, 2014 at 4:00 pm. I had just closed on a property and the buyer needed some special chinaware, so I took her to Jopco, located 800m noroeste del Flash Car en Escazú, in warehouse complex Complejo Atica, Bodega #2.
How did it happen?
Jopco has 2 warehouses, one next to the other. In the first warehouse they told us the showroom of the suministros para hotelería or hotel supplies, is in the 2nd warehouse, so we walked outside again to get to the next warehouse. A sidewalk connects the two warehouses. When walking down this sidewalk my feet hit air and instead of falling on my face, I broke my fall with my right hand and broke a finger. There was just one step in that sidewalk, which I never saw. There was not even a white or yellow line warning for the step, to prevent accidents.
On left, front door of Jopco's warehouse, where I turned to go a couple of warehouses down. Arrow shows invisible step. Can You see it? I couldn't and still can't !
An expensive medical intervention
Better a finger than a face, that must be said, but a broken finger needs attention. To make a long story short, a week later Orthopedist Dr. Daniel Alcazar de la Torre operated for 2 ½ hours on connecting the bones in my finger with a tiny little screw in the CIMA hospital. The cost of the doctor, the hospital, assistance, materials etc. was ¢1.956.600 ($3,622 @ exchange ¢540, of which my insurance company covered 80%).
It is not easy to work with your right hand in a cast for two weeks, especially if you have to write 2 blogs a week and answer 300+ emails a day. I am right handed and even brushing your teeth is difficult with your left if you’re not trained to do so. The Costa Rica real estate business doesn’t allow me to call in sick, except for the afternoon in the hospital for the operation. When my wife Dany and I looked at the financials of this little accident, I decided to write a nice letter to the owner of Jopco, claiming the $725 I had to go out of pocket. I took the letter in person to Jopco about 2 weeks after the accident. The sidewalk was still in the same shape as before, no action was taken and apparently nobody worried about another accident. Or maybe they think they are immune and won’t be sued for damages anyway. One of the managers took my letter, without signing for receipt, not wanting to take any responsibility, I never got his name.
My hand in a cast and a messed up knee
The owner of Jopco, don Gustavo Jop called me a couple of days later, saying “que pena” that happened to you. Que pena means what a shame. But his next words were that his lawyer doesn’t allow him to pay for the damages because he has no legal obligation to do so. He insisted that he does not have any responsibility for the accident because it happened outside his building, even though I was walking from his building 1 to his building 2. The words “que pena” apparently weren’t heartfelt. The most hilarious part of our conversation was that he offered me a discount on any future purchases that I make at their establishment. Like I’d ever spend a dime in their business or bring them a client, yeah right!
The Entrance to Complejo Atica, 800m noroeste del Flash Car en Escazú
Mr. Pablo Meneses, condo administrator of warehouse condominium Atica didn’t even know about the sidewalk accident, nobody had cared to tell him to grab some white or yellow paint and a brush and make sure no more accidents could happen. Mr. Meneses commented that Condominium has no liability insurance against accidents. Condominium Attica consists of several warehouses where large trucks come and go and those trucks load and unload, day in day out and an accident can happen anytime. Winmovers, the moving company who we have always recommended our clients use when they move their household to Costa Rica, is located in the same condominium right across from the sidewalk where I broke my finger.
Photo taken from the other side of the sidewalk, which shows the invisible steps
My next call was in to Mr. Edwin Obando, one of the owners of Winmovers, a Costa Rica moving company, who I have known for about 30 years. Edwin was surprised to hear my story and agreed that the HOA doesn’t have insurance for civil liability. He even mentioned that it was good the accident didn’t happen to a pregnant woman or an elderly person. He said that they would soon have a HOA meeting and he would look into the matter of getting insurance for the common areas.
I suggest Jopco and neighbors in Complejo Atica to install stair strips to prevent accidents
The reason for this blog
If I would have been in the United States when this happened, I probably would have been able to retire by suing Jopco artículos para Hoteles y Restaurantes, which is not my interest. I only wanted them to reimburse the $725 that I went out of pocket to get my finger repaired.
This blog was meant for those who are moving to Costa Rica, so they understand the risk of buying at a business who feels they have no responsibility for the safety of the clients that visit, even if they break a finger, or even worse than that. I am grateful not to have broken my neck. Suing anybody in Costa Rica for $725 doesn’t go anywhere, it would take years. It is much easier to blog about it, so everybody knows where to purchase hotel and restaurant supplies if you want to run the risk of an accident and not being taken care of.
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