Hatch door to roof of shopping mall injures lighting technician. $12.6M. Los Angeles County.

Summary

Property manager had actual notice of the defective door.

The Case

  • Case Name: Louis Acosta v. MAS Realty, LLC et al.
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC717512
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Friday, August 06, 2021
  • Date Action was Filed: Wednesday, August 08, 2018
  • Type of Action: Dangerous Condition Private Property, Premises Liability
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Mark V. Mooney
  • Plaintiffs:
    Louis Acosta, 40, lighting technician
  • Defendants:
    MAS Realty, LLC
    Athena Management, Inc.
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $12,622,238.75
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    Jointly against both defendants.

    Plaintiff had also originally named The Roof Depot as a defendant; however the parties were able to reach a settlement before trial. The judge granted the motion for good faith settlement before trial began.

  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: None.
  • Economic Damages:

    Past medical expenses: $606,238.75 

    Future medical expenses: $450,000 

    Past lost earnings: $266,000 

    Future lost earnings: $1,500,000 

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $1,800,000 

    Future: $8,000,000 

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 7 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 3 hours

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Kramer Trial Lawyers APC by Daniel K. Kramer and Teresa A. Johnson, Los Angeles.

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    The Safarian Firm APC by Harry Safarian,La Crescenta.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Fardad Mobin, M.D., neurosurgery, Beverly HIlls.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Tony Feuerman, M.D., neurosurgery, Encino.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Brad Avrit, safety engineering.

    Enrique Vega vocational rehabilitation.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    Gidon Vardi, safety engineering.

    Nancy Michalski, billing.

    Roderick Stoneburner, vocational rehabilitation.

    David Weiner, economics.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Defendant MAS Realty was the owner of Arlington Plaza, a strip mall in Riverside. MAS had hired defendant Athena Management, Inc. to manage the property. In August 2014, defendants asked The Roof Depot, Inc. to inspect all the rooftops at Arlington Plaza. In a report sent to defendant Athena on September 9, 2014, Roof Depot noted that the hatch door leading to the rooftop of one of the buildings called “Pad A” was broken, and the spring was missing, making the door “heavy and dangerous to operate.” Roof Depot recommended repairing the entire hatch door for $3,150. Defendant Athena acknowledged the email, and included the hatch door repair for the December 2015 budget. However, the door was not repaired in December 2015 and the repairs were rescheduled for December 2016.

    Plaintiff was a lighting technician assigned to check the exterior lights of Arlington Plaza. On August 10, 2016, plaintiff needed to access the rooftop of Pad A in order to check the photocells on the roof. Plaintiff proceeded to climb the ladder to the roof, push the hatch door open, and maneuver the locking lever into position. However, while he was in the process of exiting the hatch door, his toolbelt caught on the hatch door's locking lever, causing the door to slam onto his back. Plaintiff was able to re-open the hatch door, and upon examination, realized that the door was missing a spring assist, so that the door was able to slam down as opposed to gently dropping.

    Plaintiff continued to work for a few hours before having to go to the doctor as the pain and numbness continued in his extremities and back. Ultimately, plaintiff underwent two spinal fusion surgeries and has a recommendation for a shoulder surgery. Due to his condition, Dr. Mobin has indicated plaintiff will need future surgeries at the adjacent levels in his spine. As a result of his injuries, plaintiff could not return to work in the same capacity, and ultimately stopped working completely in October 2016. Plaintiff needed to move into his parents’ home because he was unable to pay his rent

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    This case proceeded under an exception to the Privette Doctrine based on the case Kinsman v. Unocal Corp. Under this exception, the owner/controller of a premises may be held liable for injuries to an independent contractor’s employee if (1) the owner/controller knew or reasonably should have known of a concealed dangerous condition on the property; (2) the independent contractor could not have known or reasonably could not have known about the condition; (3) the owner/controller failed to warn the independent contractor of the condition; (4) the employee was harmed; and (5) the conduct of the owner/controller was a substantial factor in causing the employee’s harm.

    Plaintiff alleged that he could not know the hatch door was going to fall on him until the incident occurred, and therefore defendants were in the best position to correct the dangerous condition, as they had been on notice of its existence nearly two years prior to the incident.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendants maintained throughout litigation that the hatch door was not dangerous, and that they did not know that the hatch was broken, despite the September 9, 2014 email.

    Defendants also maintained that they were not responsible for the incident, and instead alleged that plaintiff, his employer, and The Roof Depot were at fault. Defendants also argued that they did warn plaintiff and his employer of the dangerous condition, as there was a handwritten note on the wall behind the ladder that read “Hatch broken! Watch fingers and head ☹”

    Defendants also alleged that plaintiff caused the incident himself because it was his toolbelt that dislodged the locking lever. Defendants also pointed to a typed statement by plaintiff after the incident that stated he acknowledged the spring was broken as he lifted the hatch door up initially.

    Defendants disputed the nature and extent of plaintiff’s injuries. Defendants’ billing expert cut down plaintiff’s medical bills by two-thirds, from approximately $606,000 to $200,000. In addition, defendants’ vocational rehabilitation expert suggested plaintiff could return to work in a position that was better than the one he had left, and that he could make more money, thereby suffering from no future lost earnings. In opening and closing, defendants asked for a full defense verdict.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Plaintiff suffered from neck, low back and shoulder injuries as a result of the incident. Plaintiff underwent a C5-6, C6-7 discectomy and fusion on August 3, 2020 and an L4-5 decompression and fusion on February 8, 2021. Dr. Mobin has indicated plaintiff will suffer from adjacent segment syndrome and will need future spinal fusions at the adjacent levels. Plaintiff's doctors have also recommended shoulder surgery. The cost of the treatment to date is approximately $631,000, and the future surgeries are estimated to cost approximately $450,000.

  • Plaintiff also suffered from lost earnings totaling around $260,000 to date, and has not been able to return to work given his condition.

    Mr. Vega estimates that plaintiff will lose between approximately $1,200,000 and $2,200,000 in future lost earnings. Plaintiff also claimed past and future non-economic damages.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $606,238.75
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $450,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $266,000
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: $1,500,000 to $2,200,000

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $1,999,999.99 on 10/19/19.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: Defendants offered $200,000 about a month before trial.

Additional Notes

Defendants had filed a cross-complaint against plaintiff's employer, Horizon Lighting, based on an express indemnity agreement. The judge severed the cross complaint before trial began, and this matter will be decided separately.

Disclaimer

This is not an official court document. While the publisher believes the information to be accurate, the publisher does not guarantee it and the reader is advised not to rely upon it without consulting the official court documents or the attorneys of record in this matter who are listed above.

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