A 35-year-old woman who suffered a broken neck and skull fracture after falling down a flight of stairs in a Northwest Washington convenience store has received a settlement from the Southland Corp. that attorneys say could eventually total $5.5 million.
Lakesh Tadesse, an Ethiopian who was employed as a domestic for a family in Potomac when she suffered the fall last year, will receive $250,000 cash and a guaranteed income of $3,000 a month for the rest of her life in the agreement reached with Southland, the Dallas-based firm that owns the 7-Eleven franchise chain.
Tadesse's attorney, Edward Bou, said the agreement also calls for 5 percent compounded annual adjustments in the monthly allowance.
Based on Tadesse's estimated life expectancy of 43 years, the annual increases would bring the total settlement to $5.5 million, Bou said, by the end of his client's lifetime.
"It's wonderful," said Bou. "We've just seen so many people with permanent disabilities who never get anything close to this."
An attorney for Southland, Laurence Scott, confirmed the details of the agreement but declined further comment.
Under conditions of the agreement, signed Dec. 16 by D.C. Superior Court Judge Carlisle E. Pratt, a court-appointed permanent conservator will manage the funds under court supervision and will pay Tadesse's living expenses.
Attorneys for Tadesse had filed suit alleging that Southland and the franchise operator of the 7-Eleven store located in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood at 19th Street and Columbia Road NW were negligent in leaving a trap door to a basement storage area open and unguarded between shelves in one of the store aisles.
According to Bou, Tadesse was living in Potomac and visiting a friend in Washington when she stopped at the store July 19, 1981, to buy some canned goods.
Tadesse, who is less than five feet tall, was in the vicinity of the opened trap door when she attempted to reach over it and take a can off the shelf.
Bou said Tadesse lost her balance and fell through the opening and down approximately 12 feet of wooden stairs.
Tadesse suffered a broken neck and fractured skull in the fall, Bou said.
She was transported to George Washington University Hospital, where she remained unconscious, he said, for two months.
Tadesse, who is "impoverished and without insurance," according to Bou, stayed at the hospital for treatment for 16 months.
She is permanently disabled with partial paralysis of all four limbs and "will never be able to work again," Bou said.
Tadesse is now living in an apartment in Foggy Bottom where she is cared for "round-the-clock" by friends from the city's Ethiopian community, Bou said.
Scott, the attorney for Southland Corp, said that the store's entrance to the basement storage area has since been redesigned and the trap door no longer exists.