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Defense Verdict in Premises Liability Case

December 23, 2015

A jury recently returned a verdict in favor of defendant El Proyecto Del Barrio Foundation, Inc. represented by Murchison & Cumming Senior Partner Richard C. Moreno and Partner Lisa D. Angelo, in a personal injury matter where a senior citizen sought millions of dollars in damages. Robert Finnerty and Christopher Aumais of Girardi Keese tried the case on behalf of both plaintiffs.

In the case, the plaintiff, a 77-year-old woman, allegedly tripped and fell over a concrete wheel stop located in the disabled parking stall section of a parking lot owned by a not-for-profit medical clinic (“Clinic”) in Winnetka, CA. As a result of the fall, the plaintiff sustained a left arm fracture and two years after her fall, underwent a total shoulder replacement surgery. Notably, there were no witnesses to the fall other than the plaintiff’s son and her 94 year old husband who only saw her as she was falling to the ground, but did not actually see her trip over the wheel stop. The plaintiff filed an original complaint for negligence and premises liability against the clinic and her husband filed a claim for loss of consortium.

At trial, the plaintiff testified that after she got out of her son’s SUV, she intended to walk up the designated walk way toward the entrance of the Clinic but a family was walking down the walkway. As such, she walked across two empty parking stalls and toward a second designated pathway when she tripped over the wheel-stop. The plaintiff’s liability expert testified that all concrete wheel stops are “tripping hazards” and should not be used any time there is a possibility a pedestrian can come into contact with the wheel stop and that the wheel stops were “dangerous” because they were not painted blue or another contrasting color. According to the defense expert, both the wheel stops and disabled parking stalls complied with the California Building Code; and, according to the Code, the clinic had no choice but to have concrete wheel stops based upon the design of the parking lot. He also testified that the California Building Code does not require the wheel stops be painted blue. The clinic’s architect further testified about the parking lot’s design, which he drafted, based upon the California Building Code and permits obtained from both the County and City of Los Angeles.

After an eight day jury trial which included testimony from two liability experts, two shoulder surgeons, an upper extremity expert, two life care planners, an economist, an architect, and six percipient witnesses, the jury took less than 45 minutes to render a defense verdict in favor of the defendant.

In this trip and fall case, Sedigheh Ansari and Abbas Taheri appealed from a judgment in favor of El Proyecto Del Barrio, Inc. and El Proyecto Del Barrio Foundation. The appellants contended the trial court erred when it failed to instruct the jury that it could consider the failure of respondents to follow their own alleged policies and procedures as evidence of negligence. During trial the defendant contended that the policies and procedures plaintiffs were relying on were not, in fact , the policies and procedures of the defendant. The Court of Appeal found no error in refusing the proffered jury instruction and affirmed the judgment in favor of El Proyecto.

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