Sidewalk trip and fall in City of LA. $181.5K. Los Angeles County.
Woman walking home from bus stop trips on uneven sidewalk. Plaintiff admitted she knew the sidewalk was raised.
- Case Name: Arlene Vallejo v. City of Los Angeles
- Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC609368
- Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, January 29, 2018
- Date Action was Filed: Friday, February 05, 2016
- Type of Action: Dangerous Condition Public Property, Trip and Fall
- Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Randy Rhodes
- Plaintiffs: Arlene Vallejo, 59.
- Defendants: City of Los Angeles
- Type of Result: Jury Verdict
- Gross Verdict or Award: $181,500
- Settlement Amount: City of Los Angeles filed a Motion for New Trial and the case settled shortly before the hearing of that motion.
- Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 25% to plaintiff.
- Economic Damages:
Future medical damages: $73,500 (Past medical damages not in evidence.)
- Non-Economic Damages:
Past pain and suffering: $54,000
Future pain and suffering: $54,000
- Trial or Arbitration Time: 5 days.
- Jury Deliberation Time: 3 hours.
- Attorney for the Plaintiff:
Ball and Bonholtzer by Eric C. Bonholtzer, Pasadena.
- Attorney for the Defendant: Ronald S. Whittaker
- Attorney for the Defendant:
Office of the City Attorney by Ronald Whitaker, Los Angeles.
- Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):
Pejman Shirazy, M.D., pain management, Encino.
- Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):
Herb Summers, Ph.D, liability.
Gary Gsell, notice.
- Defendant's Technical Expert(s):
Craig Shaw, liability.
Facts and Background
- Facts and Background:
On March 15, 2015, plaintiff was walking home from her usual bus stop and was a few blocks away from her home when she tripped on an elevated gap in a sidewalk at the corner of North Avenue 56 and Ash Street in Los Angeles. Plaintiff suffered left knee and low back pain as a result of the fall but was able to walk the rest of the way home. Her symptoms grew worse and she presented to the hospital. X-rays were taken, but no fractures were diagnosed. Plaintiff saw an orthopedist and was recommended to start a physical therapy regimen.
Plaintiff had suffered a prior Worker’s Compensation injury that resulted in bilateral hip replacement and she had a difficult recovery, so she was non-compliant with the doctor’s recommendations. Plaintiff presented a handful of times for treatment, but primarily managed her symptoms with pain medication. Her orthopedist suggested potential knee replacement, but plaintiff was not interested after the poor result she had experienced from the hip replacements. Shortly before trial, as the pain grew worse, plaintiff presented to Dr. Pejman Shirazy, a pain management doctor, to determine potential necessary future care. Due to plaintiff’s reluctance to treat, the agreed-upon past medical bills under Howell were less than $5,000. Dr. Shirazy, who was designated as plaintiff’s medical expert, opined plaintiff would need injections and knee replacement surgery costing $56,000 and epidural injections for her lumbar spine costing about $10,000 each. Dr. Shirazy conceded he did not know how plaintiff would respond to the injections, so he could not determine how many she would need and admitted she would likely have needed this treatment in approximately five years anyway based on her medical history, age, and weight. There was no loss of earnings claim.
- Plaintiff's Contentions:
That the deviation in the sidewalk was a dangerous condition. That the gap was just high enough to pose a tripping hazard, but not so high that it would be readily apparent. Plaintiff admitted that she could have been more attentive, but that did not excuse the City of Los Angeles for leaving a potential tripping hazard unfixed. Plaintiff argued that because of the potential danger to pedestrians, that defendant should have a more proactive system, particularly since if there is one deviation caused by tree roots in an area there are likely to be more than one. Plaintiff also argued that sidewalks are for everyone, not just people in perfect health, and that is why the City has an obligation to ensure that there is a safe path of travel for pedestrians.
Plaintiff’s notice expert, Gary Gsell, testified that there were three separate incidents where the City employees were in the general vicinity, but admitted that there were no specific calls or complaints regarding the uplift at issue. Plaintiff’s notice expert was a former Los Angeles City Supervisor who testified that the three times the City employees were in the area they should have done a more proactive inspection, and their failure to do so constituted sufficient notice that the City should have been aware of the dangerous condition.
Plaintiff’s liability expert, Herb Summers, testified that plaintiff was acting reasonably in her use of the sidewalk and since the deviation was over 1 ½ inches it posed a potential tripping hazard. Defendant’s liability expert, Craig Shaw, conceded in cross-examination that had he seen the deviation, it would have been scheduled to be fixed. Plaintiff’s counsel argued to the jury that plaintiff was accepting responsibility for her part in the fall, and that while she admitted she knew of the deviation she tripped on, that she was looking up the street to ensure that she would not run into pedestrians and that had the City fixed the problem then the incident would have never occurred in the first place. Plaintiff asked for an allocation of 75% of fault to the City and 25% to plaintiff. Plaintiff and her friend testified to the impact of the injury on her life. After approximately three hours of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict against the City.
Plaintiff explained that the sidewalk was being used in a reasonable manner since plaintiff had to make sure that she would not run into other pedestrians. Plaintiff argued that even though plaintiff had not been compliant with treatment up until the point of trial, that the pain had grown to the point where she had to address it, and that future medical care should be provisioned for her due to defendant’s conduct. Plaintiff further argued that the inconsistencies in the medical records regarding the wrong knee being noted sometimes happened, particularly in the urgent care or emergency room, when the primary concern is making sure a patient is okay and that the gaps in treatment were due to her prior experiences with therapy not helping her. Plaintiff argued that the injuries had a substantial effect on her activities of daily living.
- Defendant's Contentions:
That since plaintiff admitted she knew of the deviation, that she was not being reasonable in her use of the sidewalk and therefore the City should not be liable. Defendant further argued that the City had no notice of the uplift because there were no complaints about it or even on that side of the street on that block. Defendant suggested that plaintiff should have informed the City about the uplift, and the deviation was small and therefore could not be seen from far away by any City employees in the area. Defendant argued that the City had no budget to do proactive inspections and that their procedures were adequate.
Defendant also argued that there was not enough time to fix the deviation due to the number of complaints they get on a regular basis. Defendant argued that since plaintiff testified in her deposition that she would not undergo any future surgery due to the difficult recovery she had for her bilateral hip replacements, that the jury should not consider a knee replacement or epidural injections because it was speculative. Defendant further contended that since plaintiff had not received MRIs yet, that the jury should not award future care since there was no way to tell if the care was reasonable or necessary. Defendant also argued that since there were inconsistencies in the medical records and gaps in treatment, that cast doubt on the severity of the injuries and that the recommended treatment was excessive. Defendant also stressed that it was not disputed that due to her age, weight and size, plaintiff would have needed the same care eventually.
Injuries and Other Damages
- Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:
Ongoing left knee and low back pain.
Demands and Offers
- Plaintiff §998 Demand: $50,000
- Plaintiff Demand during Trial: $100,000
- Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $17,000