Employer said responsible for intoxicated employee's auto accident. $15 million. Los Angeles County.
$15 million verdict against employer after employee becomes intoxicated while in scope of job and injures client.
- Case Name: George v. Firstservice Residential California LLC
- Court and Case Number: : Los Angeles Superior Court / BC534796 - Lead Case (Consolidated w/ Case No. BC548489)
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Wednesday, March 22, 2017
- Date Action was Filed: Thursday, January 30, 2014
- Type of Action: Course and scope of employment, DUI Accident, Vehicles - Auto vs. Auto
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Victor E. Chavez
- Plaintiffs: Tomislav George,47.
- Defendants: Firstservice Residential California LLC
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $15,030,718.83
- Net Verdict or Award: $12,024,575.06
- Award as to each Defendant:
$12,024,575.06 awarded against Firstservice Residential California LLC.
- Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 20% comparative fault against plaintiff.
- Economic Damages:
Past medical expenses: $926,287.83
Past lost earnings/earning capacity: $75,649
Future medical expenses: $1,028,782
Future lost earnings/earning capacity: $1,500,000
- Non-Economic Damages:
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 4 weeks.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 1 1/2 days.
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Greene Broillet & Wheeler LLP by Bruce Broillet and Alan Van Gelder, Santa Monica.
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Koeller, Nebeker, Carlson & Haluck by Gary Hoffman and Maria Plese, Irvine.
- Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
George Tang, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Pasadena. (Treating physician.)
Dr. Amy Magneson, pain management, San Diego.
Daniel Zehler, M.D., neuropsychology, Long Beach.
Lester Zackler, M.D., neuropsychiatry, Sherman Oaks.
Leonard Matheson, Ph.D., vocational rehabilitation, St. Louis, MO.
Carol Hyland, life-care planning, Lafayette.
- Defendant's Medical Expert(s):
Ross Nathan, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Long Beach.
James High, M.D., neuropsychiatry, Santa Monica.
David Lechuga, M.D., neuropsychology, Lake Forest.
Steven Molina, Ph.D., vocational rehabilitation, San Clemente.
Amy Sutton, life care planning, Long Beach.
- Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Dr. Donald Barceloux, toxicology, Los Angeles.
Peter Formuzis, economics, Santa Ana.
Jean Seawright -negligent hiring, retention, and supervision.
- Defendant's Technical Expert(s):
Martin Breen, toxicology, Tustin.
Constantine Boukidis, economics, Los Angeles.
Dennis Buster, negligent hiring, retention, and supervision.
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
On Sunday March 17, 2013 (St. Patrick's Day) Lance Sandman was driving plaintiff George back to Mr. George's home. Mr. Sandman was a general manager employed by Defendant Firstservice Residential California LLC. (FSR) FSR is a property management company. Mr. George was the VP of a Homeowner Association Board that was a client of FSR.
Mr. Sandman had driven plaintiff to a restaurant/pub called Tam O'Shanter. Both Mr. Sandman and Mr. George had consumed alcohol. Mr. Sandman was driving while under the influence and collided with another car on the freeway. Plaintiff sustained serious injuries in the crash, including a near amputation of his right arm. Mr. Sandman was arrested and convicted of DUI while causing great bodily injury in connection with the March 17th crash. Mr. Sandman had previously been convicted of DUI while an employee of FSR.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
Plaintiff brought two causes of action - 1. Vicarious liability and 2. Negligent Hiring, Supervision, and Retention. Plaintiff contended that Mr. Sandman was acting within the scope of his employment with FSR at the time of the incident. Plaintiff contended that part of Mr. Sandman's job responsibilities included befriending and entertaining clients of FSR and that Mr. Sandman's job also included helping plan party events for the Homeowner's Association client of FSR.
FSR policy permitted Mr. Sandman to entertain clients and drink alcohol "in moderation" if it had a business purpose. Both Mr. Sandman and Mr. George testified that the two had gone to Tam O'Shanter on March 17, 2013 to scout the location for potential ideas for St. Patrick's Day parties to be held at the condo that Mr. Sandman/FSR managed. The condo had an annual St. Patrick's Day celebration that Mr. Sandman was responsible for helping to organize. Plaintiff contended that Mr. Sandman's actions on March 17, 2013 were in part for the benefit of the company and were foreseeable given that FSR permitted/encouraged Mr. Sandman to mix business with pleasure in interacting with FSR clients.
Plaintiff also contended that FSR was negligent in the hiring, retention, and supervision of Mr. Sandman. Plaintiff contended that FSR ignored red flags in Mr. Sandman's background check and failed to follow up on various other red flags that arose during his employment regarding his driving record. (Mr. Sandman's job required him to drive.) FSR violated its own procedures and failed to detect the fact that Mr. Sandman had been convicted of a DUI and had his license suspended within six months of his hiring at FSR.
Plaintiff also contended that FSR policies, procedures, and supervision of Mr. Sandman regarding driving and entertaining clients and consumption of alcohol were also ambiguous and inadequate. Plaintiff argued that although Mr. Sandman was intoxicated at the time of the incident there was no evidence that he was displaying visible signs of intoxication to Mr. George. (Visible signs of intoxication were not noted by the paramedics or ER Triage nurse treating Mr. Sandman shortly after the crash.)
Plaintiff contended that the incident caused severe damage to his right arm, requiring 30 surgeries, and will require more surgeries in the future. Plaintiff contended that he has constant pain, inability to use his arm for anything beyond slight assistance, and cognitive and emotional issues. Plaintiff contended he needed future medical care and that he had suffered and would continue to suffer loss of earnings/earning capacity.
- Defendant's Contentions:
Defendant argued that Mr. Sandman was not in the course and scope of his employment at the time of the incident; also claimed that Mr. Sandman and Mr. George were friends and were out at Tam O'Shanter for purely social purposes that had nothing to do with Mr. Sandman's job at FSR.
That Mr. Sandman and Mr. George had developed a social drinking relationship in the years preceding this accident. In fact, numerous emails admitted at trial disclosed that Mr. George was typically the one who initiated their drinking outings, with Mr. Sandman often declining these invitations from Mr. George to get together and consume alcohol. Emails generated by Mr. George in the months preceding the accident included such statements from him as “Damn, we tied one on,” and “We’ll just have to party twice as hard next time.” Mr. George also emailed Mr. Sandman when Mr. George was out drinking by himself in various bars located on Los Feliz Boulevard. Testimony provided by other members of the Homeowners Association Board indicated that Mr. Sandman was an exemplary property manager and that, unlike Mr. George, the other HOA board members would never have even considered asking Mr. Sandman to go out with them for drinks.
That Mr. George was contributorily negligent by drinking so much on the date of the accident that he himself reached a blood-alcohol level of between .11 and .13 before climbing into the car with Mr. Sandman, which may have lowered his concerns about whether or not Mr. Sandman was fit to drive that day. Rather than describing the St. Patrick’s Day trip as being some type of a business outing, Mr. George told CHP officers in a recorded statement on the day following the accident that he and Mr. Sandman had been out drinking some beers and talking to some girls. Mr. George claimed to suffer from “pre-accident amnesia” which allegedly prevented him from remembering that he had been with Mr. Sandman at another bar in Toluca Lake, earlier that same day, where they drank whiskey shots. Medical experts who testified on behalf of both Mr. George and FSR agreed that Mr. George had not used full effort during the various memory tests administered by both sides.
Defendant claimed it did not know about Mr. Sandman's prior DUI; also that there was nothing wrong with its policy regarding alcohol consumption by its employees.
Defendant disputed the nature and extent of Mr. George's injuries. In particular defendant claimed that plaintiff had returned to employment and that his claims for loss of future earnings and future medical care were less than claimed.
Injuries and Other Damages
- Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Severely injured and disabled right arm, constant pain in the arm. Back pain, problems with walking, cognitive difficulties, and emotional difficulties.
Loss of earnings and earning capacity. Although plaintiff returned to work, he was demoted. In addition, his injuries will shorten his work life expectancy.
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: Verbal settlement demand prior to trial for $19 million (per defense counsel).
- Defendant §998 Offer: $1,000,000