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Former employee files suit against Dillard's

The lawsuit says the store's delays in approving surgery to treat a job-related injury made the injury worse.


© St. Petersburg Times, published April 28, 2000

PORT RICHEY -- A former Dillard's saleswoman who injured her back in a scuffle with a shoplifter is suing the department store, saying it delayed authorizing surgery for more than two years while her condition worsened.

Deborah Burns of Port Richey was working at the Dillard's at 9409 U.S Hwy. 19 on April 27, 1996, when a shoplifter tried to wrest some designer shirts from her, according to the suit, filed this week in Circuit Court in west Pasco.

Burns' left hand got caught on the hangers, and in the scuffle she was knocked to the ground, injuring her arm, shoulder and lower back, the suit said. Over the next 16 months, four different surgeons, three of them selected by Dillard's, concluded she needed back surgery, though the company repeatedly refused to give the go ahead, the suit said.

It was not until June 1998 that the surgery was finally performed, with spinal fusion and a bone graft, but the delay seriously damaged her prospects of recovery and plunged her into depression, Burns' attorney, Matthew S. Mudano, told the Times.

"This is one of the cases where justice delayed truly is justice denied," Mudano said. "Her condition is markedly worse than it otherwise would have been if she'd had (surgery) two years ago. I would say, from a physical standpoint, she's probably 50 percent worse off than if she had had it in a timely manner."

Mudano said Burns is able to walk, but she cannot stand or sit for extended periods, a condition that seriously limits her employability. Burns also suffered a delay in getting authorization for shoulder surgery, he said, which was not performed until late 1999.

A call for comment to the office of Dillard's general counsel in Little Rock, Ark., was not returned as of press time.

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