Plaintiff slips on spilled cat litter in grocery store and sustains lumbar spine injuries. $2.5M. Los Angeles County.

Summary

Plaintiff says that the bag of cat litter had been slit open by stocking clerks and should have been removed. Ralph's Grocery says no negligence.

The Case

  • Case Name: Blasing v. Ralphs Grocery
  • Court and Case Number: Los Angeles Superior Court / BC649818
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, February 03, 2020
  • Type of Action: Slip and Fall
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. Peter Mirich
  • Plaintiffs:
    John Blasing, 52, musician
  • Defendants:
    Ralphs Grocery
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $2,499,408
  • Net Verdict or Award: $1,999,936.64
  • Contributory/Comparative Negligence: 20% to plaintiff.
  • Economic Damages:

    Past medical: $229, 608

    Future medical: $169,600

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $350,000

    Future: $1,750,000

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 8 days
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 2 days
  • Jury Polls: 12-0
  • Post Trial Motions & Post-Verdict Settlements: Costs and CCP 998 interest awarded. Appeal filed by defense. Holly Boyer of Esner, Chang & Boyer to work with plaintiffs on appeal.

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Sullivan & Sullivan by Jerold "Gene" Sulllivan, Manhattan Beach.

     

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Stone | Dean by Greg Stone, Woodland Hills.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Ramin Rabbani, M.D., orthopedic surgery.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

    Richard Rosenberg, M.D., orthopedic surgery.

  • Plaintiff's Technical Expert(s):

    Brad Avrit, safety engineering.

    Jan Roughan, life care planning/medical billing.

    Ed Garcia, economics.

  • Defendant's Technical Expert(s):

    None.

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff was walking in a Ralphs grocery store when he slipped on some spilled cat litter. The leaking bag had been removed from the shelf by another customer and placed on the floor. The Ralphs policy was to sweep the floor once every hour.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the spilled cat litter had been hard for plaintiff to see as he was wearing sun glasses. That the amount of time the spill remained on the floor was irrelevant as the store-branded cat litter bag had been cut during stocking and should have been removed immediately.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant claimed no liability as they had an adequate sweeping plan and the cat litter had been on the floor for only 24 minutes. That plaintiff either staged the fall or was not truly injured. That plaintiff's par fracture was present at birth. That this attorney-referred lien case had built-up medical charges.

    That plaintiff had walked over the spill eight minutes prior to the accident and appeared to look down at it. Then plaintiff came back into the aisle and walked in the same spill and fell.

    That defendant store did not have "notice" of the spill as it was on the floor for such a short amount of time. Also, that another customer might have slit the bag with a shopping cart, causing it to leak.

     

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Pars fracture in lumbar spine involving three epidurals and lumbar fusion surgery. Future lumbar fusion revision also claimed.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $229,608
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $169,600

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $499,999 on December 21, 2018.
  • Defendant §998 Offer: $140,000

Additional Notes

Per defense counsel:

Defendant’s objections to the admissibility of plaintiff's safety engineering expert were overruled. Defendant contended the expert’s opinion was simply that of an advocate and did not aid the jury but only served to argue points. This issue  is currently the subject of a pending appeal.

Defendant’s Motion for New Trial was conditionally granted unless plaintiff accepted a remittitur of $252,000.

Plaintiff’s counsel was found to make inappropriate arguments in trial and was found to violate the court’s specific order regarding the same. The court noted, among other things,  in its order:

“Before trial, the Court distributed to trial counsel a booklet of rules pertaining to issues that the

Court deemed important enough to bring to the attention of counsel. The booklet emphasized the

impropriety of Golden Rule insinuations during closing arguments. Item 31 on page 11 of the

Court’s “Order re Jury Trial Rules” stated as follows:

--Golden rule argument: The golden rule argument, where an attorney asks

jurors to place themselves in a party’s shoes and award damages as they would

“charge” to undergo equivalent disability, pain and suffering, is improper.

Beagle v. Vasold (1966) 65 Cal.2d 166, 182, n.1. (A “red flag” is an attorney’s

use of the words “you” and “imagine” in connection with argument that focuses

on damages). Example: “Imagine that you are in the shoes of Defendant or

Plaintiff.”

Want-ad (“bag of money”) argument: Defendant contends that Plaintiff’s counsel

improperly made a “want ad” argument (equivalent of the “Golden Rule” argument). Defendant

argues (Defendant’s Memorandum of Points and Authorities, page 10) that Plaintiff’s counsel

asked the jury to consider the following:

If somebody was going to hand him a big bag of money right

before he walked into that aisle, all time stops here. Do you want this

bag of money? What is that for? Wait a minute. You can have the money

but you get to live the rest of your life in pain . . . Nobody would do that.”

(Reporter’s Partial Transcript of Proceedings, 1/29, 34:17-35:2).

The statement focused on the degree to which plaintiff may have been affected by his injuries

and, therefore, was not improper. It was not likely to have caused the jury to analyze plaintiff’s

pain and suffering from the point-of-view of a “surrogate victim.”

Defendant has associated in Horvitz and Levy LLP on appeal. The appeal is pending.

Per plaintiff's counsel:

Defense made no objections to any of the issues in plaintiff’s closing and the remittitur is subject to cross-appeal. 

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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