Jurors award $3M for escalator-mangled toe at Little Rock's Park Plaza mall

FILE — Park Plaza Mall in Little Rock.
FILE — Park Plaza Mall in Little Rock.

An aspiring surgeon whose right big toe was ripped off on a Park Plaza mall escalator during a Christmas shopping trip won a $3 million award for her injuries from a Pulaski County jury Wednesday night.

The amount was six times what the mall and the escalator maker claimed 27-year-old Aisha Siddiqui was due.

Siddiqui's toe was "crushed and shredded" when the medical student's booted foot was pulled into the moving staircase on a Dec. 10, 2013, visit to the midtown Little Rock shopping center, her attorney, Denise Hoggard, told jurors.

The New Yorker's "Christmas shopping nightmare" occurred about an hour before closing, Hoggard said. Siddiqui filed suit 11 months later.

The dozen jurors deliberated about two hours before a nine-member majority -- the minimum required for a civil verdict -- agreed that Siddiqui was entitled to $3 million for past and future medical expenses, lost wages, pain, suffering and disfigurement.

Recovering from the injury set back Siddiqui's medical studies by years, while the loss of a toe will affect her forever, Hoggard said.

"Every morning when she gets out of bed and puts her feet on the floor she has to deal with it," Hoggard of Rainwater, Holt and Sexton said in her closing statement.

She estimated the earnings loss range from $1.5 million, if jurors considered how much she would earn as a college graduate, to $5 million, if she succeeds as a surgeon.

Hoggard called on jurors to resist defense efforts to minimize what had happened to Siddiqui, warning the panel that the defendants hoped to pay only a "bargain basement price."

The mall and escalator manufacturer Kone Inc. had admitted fault for Siddiqui's injury ahead of trial, leaving the decision of damages up to the six-man, six-woman jury in a three-day trial before Circuit Judge Chris Piazza.

Their attorneys -- Mark Breeding for Park Plaza and Michael Emerson for Kone -- suggested $500,000 would be "fair and reasonable" compensation for Siddiqui's future income since she had just graduated from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock when she was injured.

There's no guarantee that Siddiqui will finish medical school, let alone rise to surgeon, the pinnacle of the medical profession, they told jurors.

Hoggard described Siddiqui's damaged toe as "hamburger meat," and told jurors the student had to endure a protracted rescue because firefighters hoped they could save the toe so it could be reattached. The woman was left to writhe in agony, since rescuers could not administer any pain-killing drugs until she was freed, the attorney said.

"This case isn't about a toe. It's about Ms. Siddiqui's foundation," she said. "It's her structural integrity. It's her stamina. It's her ability to go forward."

A great toe is crucial for standing and walking. Its loss has affected the way Siddiqui has to walk, forcing her to tread on the side of her foot and twist her hip and knee in ways those joints weren't meant to be used to walk, Hoggard told jurors. Daily pain is her new normal and will only increase as she ages. A prosthetic is only good for cosmetic purposes, Hoggard said.

"She's disfigured and it's going to get worse," Hoggard said. "It will affect every step she takes. Her pain won't lessen until the day she dies."

Hoggard apologized to jurors for showing them photos of the woman's injuries, but said the pictures were necessary so the panel could see what she had gone through. Hoggard also showed mall surveillance video of Siddiqui, whose parents are doctors, and her cousin riding down the east escalator from the second to first floor of the three-story, 58-year-old mall at 6000 W Markham St.

Siddiqui's foot was caught in escalator teeth in a gap caused by a break in the device, and the defendants knew that customers' clothing had before been caught up like that, according to the lawsuit.

Metro on 12/07/2018

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