Studio publicity head trips on step in restaurant converted from residence built in 1928. Quadriparesis. Farmers Insurance failed to settle within policy limits.
Verdict only as to Hacienda Paraiso, the only named defendant at time of verdict.
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
Joseph Daniel Davis, Pasadena.
Veatch Carlson, LLP by Bruce Schechter and Timothy Fitzhugh, Los Angeles.
On July 6, 2011 Arlene Ludwig tripped and fell following lunch at the D'Cache restaurant in Toluca Lake. No alcohol was involved. She tripped over a 6-inch single step leading from the foyer/dining room to the upper level where the restrooms were situated.
Plaintiff struck her head on the ladies' room door, her head snapped back, and she suffered what is known as a cervical cord syndrome, or partial quadriparesis. Plaintiff has limited use of her upper and lower extremities and requires caregiver assistance 24/7. Arlene Ludwig had been employed by the Walt Disney Studios as head of West Coast publicity and was a 49-year employee at the time of her injury. Though age 70 when injured, she intended to work until at least age 80.
The restaurant premises was converted from a 1928 Spanish-style bungalow, built with a sunken entryway and living room, to a commercial establishment in 2006 – 2007. The step between the sunken area and the present-day bathrooms was the point at which plaintiff tripped and fell.
That the re-model was subject to the 2002 edition of the Los Angeles Building Code. Sec. 1003.2.6 which required that all elevation changes of less than 12 inches along a path of travel be covered by a ramp. That single steps are widely recognized as a dangerous hazard since the eye doesn't easily perceive slight floor elevation changes such as in this case.
That when the owner of the residence obtained a building permit for a change of use he submitted a floor plan to the building department that showed that the floor was completely level rather than an accurate plan which should have disclosed the 6-inch elevation change.
That the L.A. Department of Building & Safety employee who issued the permit stated that, had he been made aware of the change in elevation, he would have required that the step be ramped per LABC 1003.2.6. That during the four years the D'Cache was open before the fall, a waitress testified that the staff, the owners themselves, and customers had stumbled over the step, though no one had been injured.
Hacienda Paraiso, a Calif corp. that operated the D'Cache, argued that the step over which Ms. Ludwig fell was not a dangerous condition. The area of the step was lit with more than 1 foot-candle of light as per code. Also, the condition was “open and obvious” to patrons, easily visible with multiple visual cues of its presence; that no patron or employee had previously tripped over that particular step (or any other step when they were paying attention) and Ms. Ludwig was warned about the step. Also, the subject step did not need to be ramped because it was not within an egress path of exit travel.
That, per a waitress who testified at trial, during the four years the restaurant was open before the fall, neither the staff nor the owners themselves or customers had ever stumbled over that step; that customers, including plaintiff, were warned to “watch your step.”
That plaintiff’s experts testified she will continue to regain function throughout her life. That plaintiff has regained considerable use of her legs, does not use a wheelchair for transportation, and can walk with benefit of a walker. Also that she had pre-existing arthritis and a rotator-cuff tear in her right shoulder which interfered with the use of her upper extremities and for which she was under a doctor’s care at the time of the incident.
Plaintiff has limited use of her legs and can traverse short distances in a walker. Her use of her upper extremities is even more limited. Plaintiff suffers from nightly spasms which disturb her sleep. She needs full-time caregiver assistance.