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Friday, February 23, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Honoree Sues Law School for Podium Tumble

DENVER (CN) - The University of Denver perched a distinguished law professor atop a tiny platform at an awards ceremony in her honor, and she fell off and broke her foot as she lectured, she claims in court.

Dinah Shelton, a Manatt/Ahn professor of international law at The George Washington University Law School, was named the first female recipient of the Myres S. McDougal Distinguished Lecturer in International Law award by the University of Denver's Sturm College of Law in 2011.

She sued the University and its law school in Denver County Court.

Shelton says the school flew her to Colorado and gave her an honorarium for her lecture: "Lawyers, Judges and the Law of Nations: International Law in U.S. Courts," at a formal dinner party on campus.

"Defendants assumed all control and responsibility for organizing, promoting, arranging and managing the event at which Professor Shelton was honored," her complaint says.

"Among other things, defendants set up the room, catered the event, planned the presentation schedule and set up the dining tables, raised platform and podium.

"Based upon information and belief, defendants' room was set up with a number of large dining tables.

"In the front of the room was a raised platform (dais) for Professor Shelton to stand on while delivering the lecture.

"There was also a podium (lectern) for Professor Shelton to stand behind during her lecture.

"To the 'stage left' side of the podium was a screen for use during the presentation. There was also a chair on the platform, among other items.

"While Professor Shelton was giving her lecture, she stood on the raised platform and behind the podium.

"Professor Shelton stepped back to put a glass of water on the shelf of the podium. When she did so, she fell off the podium and seriously injured her foot.

"Professor Shelton completed her lecture, but was in considerable pain due to her injured foot.

"Professor Shelton received medical attention and evaluation of her foot injury.

"The placement, arrangement and dimensions of the dais (platform) and podium (lectern) constituted a dangerous condition.

"Defendants could have eliminated the dangerous condition on the property or taken reasonable steps to protect against the dangerous condition on the property.

"Defendants were advised by one or more witnesses shortly after Professor Shelton's fall that the raised platform and podium at the McDougal lecture was dangerous and caused Professor Shelton's fall." (Parentheses in complaint.)

Shelton suffered a calcaneal fracture - a broken heel.

She claims: "The raised platform was unreasonably small in width and depth given its planned, foreseeable and expected function at defendants' event.

"Defendants' raised platform did not take into account the expected, planned, reasonable and foreseeable movements of Professor Shelton as she gave her lecture."

According to a profile on her school's website, Shelton is a formidable scholar. After earning her J.D. at UC Berkeley's Boalt School of Law in 1970, she served as director of the Office of Staff Attorneys for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit. An editor of the American Journal of International Law and a vice president of the American Society of International Law, she is the author of three award-winning legal tomes, including "Encyclopedia of Genocide and Crimes against Humanity."

Her complaint states: "Professor Shelton has been a consultant in the field of international law and human rights for various organizations, including the World Health Organization and various forums of the United Nations. She was appointed to the Organization of American States (OAS) and was elected to the organization's Inter-American Human Rights Commission (IAHCR). She served as President of the IAHCR."

Shelton says she has struggled to return to the work that earned her the McDougal award.

"Professor Shelton's professional activities involve extensive traveling, often to distant and/or remote locations. Her injury has made it very difficult to travel. Many destinations involve walking on uneven ground, sitting for extensive periods of time and limitations on movement. The foot injury has made it more uncomfortable and painful for Professor Shelton to meet her professional obligations.

"Professor Shelton's law school campus is likewise extensive and consists of a number of buildings and lots of stairs. Her foot injury has made it difficult and painful to negotiate her campus.

"Professor Shelton is often called upon by nonprofit organizations to advise, consult, lecture and otherwise participate in conferences, investigations and meetings. These nonprofit organizations lack the financial resources to pay for the necessary travel upgrades required to minimize the discomfort and pain to Professor Shelton's injured foot. Often, Professor Shelton has needed to pay for additional leg room or other accommodations for her foot injury that cannot be provided by the nonprofit organizations."

Shelton seeks more than $100,000 for negligence and premises liability.

She is represented by Bruce Kaye with Kaye & Bush in Denver.

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