Ronald Carstetter is disabled and out of work. He says that he can't afford to pay nearly $12,000 to the New Jersey insurance company that sued him as a result of a police officer falling on a cluttered stairway at his home.
Carstetter and his wife Tammy were sued for failing to keep their stairway clean, inspect their stairway for debris, and warn guests of tripping hazards on the stairway inside their home at 250 E. Middle St.
And the court has found the Carstetters liable for $11,896 in damages, which is the cost for medical treatment and wages lost to Sgt. Kevin Wilson of the Gettysburg Police Department.
"It's just amazing how they were able to do this to me," Ronald Carstetter said. "No, I don't think it's fair. I'm on disability and I don't have the money for this."
In October of last year, Wilson responded to complaints about a domestic situation occurring in the home, according to court documents. Ronald's daughter, April Carstetter, said she was having an argument with her stepmother Tammy at that time and called the police.
Wilson responded to the scene and fell when walking down the stairs from the second floor. The lawsuit states bags were left on the stairs that caused the fall. April, though, said the stairs were unobstructed and Wilson simply lost his balance.
The police department's New Jersey- based insurance company paid out $11,896.29 for medical treatment and lost wages. Then Selective Insurance Company of America sued the Carstetters in the name of the borough to recoup these costs.
Ronald said he planned to fight the lawsuit but he failed to take the necessary legal action. As a result, the court ordered a default judgment against him on Jan.17. An attorney for the insurance company said the Carstetters failed to file a legal answer to the lawsuit, resulting in the default judgment.
The judgment was entered before the issue came before a judge.
On Monday, Ronald Carstetter said he's still waiting for a bill and doesn't know how he will afford the penalty.
Gettysburg solicitor Harry Eastman said the lawsuit was filed by the insurance company without his knowledge. But he wasn't surprised at the move. The law finds it reasonable to assume that guests, such as a police officer or mailman, will come onto private property, Eastman explained. Therefore, homeowners have a legal responsibility to maintain safe conditions, he said.
Still, members of the Carstetter family have questioned the need for the lawsuit because the borough pays to provide workers-compensation insurance for its police officers. The borough budgeted about $37,000 this year for the police department's workers-compensation insurance.
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