Jury Verdict Alert reported today (see here) that there was a recent $9.9 Million verdict rendered by a judge in downtown Los Angeles on a trip and fall personal injury claim arising out of an incident at a restaurant in Toluca Lake, CA. I find several things interesting about this verdict as follows:
Facts of the Case: Plaintiff was a 70 year old female who was a chief publicist for Walt Disney Studios. As she was headed to the restroom of the D’Cache Restaurant during a lunch, she tripped over a 6 inch single step between the foyer and dining room and struck her head on the doorknob of the bathroom. Various restaurant employees and management testified that they had tripped on this same lip prior to the incident, although without injury. Plaintiff’s experts testified that the restaurant had been converted from a residence to a commercial business in or around 2007 but, failed to comply with applicable building codes which required a ramp for areas with changes in elevation of 6 inches or more within the commercial property.
Injuries: Plaintiff sustained damage to her cervical spinal cord, which resulted in partial quadriparesis leaving her with limited use of both her upper and lower extremities. She presented evidence of the need for round the clock home health care assistance.
- Past and future medical: $5,563,635.11
- Past and future lost earnings: $988,953
- Past pain and suffering: $2,000,000
- Future pain and suffering: $8,000,000
Verdict Amount: The court (on a bench trial) issued a gross verdict of $16,552,588.11 and found plaintiff to be 40% at fault, thereby reducing the net verdict to $9,931,552.87.
Settlement Discussions Prior To Verdict: The restaurant was insured by Farmers Insurance Group for $2,000,000. The plaintiff made a policy limits demand for this full amount and that demand was rejected by attorneys for the insured (on behalf of Farmers Ins.).
Things that I find interesting about this verdict as a Los Angeles Personal Injury trial lawyer:
There are several things that are interesting about this verdict. First of all, California law states that an insurance company may be liable for bad faith to their insured if they fail to tender the policy limits based upon a legitimate limits demand and a verdict is later rendered in excess of the policy limits. Therefore, the restaurant owner (as insured) clearly has a claim for bad faith for the excess exposure of almost $8,000,000.00 in this case. Interestingly, the restaurant filed for bankruptcy at some time following the incident and this bad faith claim then became an asset of their bankruptcy estate. The bankruptcy trustee offered to sell their rights to this claim for an initial amount of $7,500, which plaintiffs attorney offered to pay. This was then “bid up” to over $200,000 by representatives of Farmers Insurance. In addition, the verdict is now subject to a “Motion for New Trial” and, most likely, an appeal thereafter if the motion is denied. All of this shows what lengths insurance carriers will go to to keep from paying out a legitimate limits demand. This claim clearly had arguments as to comparative fault and liability, however, given the severity of the injuries, the $2,000,000 limits demand was within reasonable limits of potential results.