Workplace accident at home improvement store. $2.9M. Orange County.

Summary

Man driving a handicapped electric cart in home improvement store knocks over an employee with a long piece of material he had placed in the cart's basket.

The Case

  • Case Name: Gough v. Belcher
  • Court and Case Number: Orange County Superior Court / 30-2017-00907422-CU-PA
  • Date of Verdict or Judgment: Monday, April 29, 2019
  • Type of Action: Negligence, Workplace Accident, Misc.
  • Judge or Arbitrator(s): Hon. John Gastelum
  • Plaintiffs:
    Joseph Gough, 60.
  • Defendants:
    Robert Belcher
  • Type of Result: Jury Verdict

The Result

  • Gross Verdict or Award: $2,988,860.14
  • Award as to each Defendant:

    $2,988,860.14 as to defendant Robert Belcher.

  • Economic Damages:

    Past: $351,585.14

    Future: $220,000

  • Non-Economic Damages:

    Past: $472,700

    Future: $1,954,575

  • Trial or Arbitration Time: 5 days.
  • Jury Deliberation Time: 3 1/2 hours.
  • Jury Polls: 12-0

The Attorneys

  • Attorney for the Plaintiff:

    Traut Firm by Eric V. Traut, Santa Ana.

    Robinson Calcagnie by Daniel S. Robinson, Newport Beach.  

  • Attorney for the Defendant:

    Law Offices of Jack Humes by Jack Humes, Agoura Hills.

The Experts

  • Plaintiff’s Medical Expert(s):

    Gerald Alexander, M.D., orthopedic surgery, Irvine.

  • Defendant's Medical Expert(s):

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

Facts and Background

  • Facts and Background:

    Plaintiff was working for a home improvement store (Floor & Decor) when defendant customer, who was driving a handicapped electric cart, placed two pieces of aluminum trim horizontally in the cart basket and began driving through the store. The shorter end of the trim impacted with a trashcan and swung the longer end into the back of Mr. Gough's head and neck. The impact knocked him to the floor. The incident was captured by a security  camera. The defendant left the store without leaving his name and number, and the store employees failed to identify him. 

    During the next several weeks, plaintiff experienced dizziness and neck pain. He also had numbness in the left side of his face and his left eye began to droop. He was diagnosed a month following the incident with a dissected carotid artery that was treated with Plavix and aspirin. An MRI of his neck revealed severe stenosis at several levels and a disc bulge at one level. He underwent cervical fusion in January 2017.  

    After a few months, plaintiff began to develop Kyphosis which caused his head to lean down and forward. In June 2018, he underwent another fusion surgery to secure three additional levels into his mid back. He was released to full work duty in November 2018 and continues to work full-time. He does experience pain in the area of the last fused disc. The worker's compensation lien was $351,000. Plaintiff secured an assignment of the lien prior to trial.

    Defendant was identified after plaintiff obtained an order from the court to compel the home improvement store (who employed plaintiff) to compare the time on the video with customer receipts. Armed with information of two individuals, a private investigator hired by plaintiff located the defendant and obtained a statement confirming he was involved in the incident.

  • Plaintiff's Contentions:

    That the increased stenosis in the neck and the damage to the carotid artery were caused in the incident.

  • Defendant's Contentions:

    Defendant argued that although he was responsible for the incident, the home improvement store should bear comparative responsibility for employees failing to help defendant or tell him not to carry the trim horizontally in the cart. Defendant also argued that the store should have placed a warning about placement of long objects in the basket. 

    Defense doctor Tony Feuerman contended that the carotid injury may have been caused by a chiropractic manipulation. He further testified that the first fusion surgery was not medically indicated and that plaintiff sustained only a neck strain. He testified an MRI obtained in 2015 was substantially similar to the one taken in the month following the incident.

Injuries and Other Damages

  • Physical Injuries claimed by Plaintiff:

    Carotid dissection and increased cervical stenosis.

Special Damages

  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Medical: $280,000 (Paid by workers' comp.)
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Medical: $150,000+
  • Special Damages Claimed - Past Lost Earnings: $71,000 (Paid by workers' comp.)
  • Special Damages Claimed - Future Lost Earnings: None claimed.

Demands and Offers

  • Plaintiff §998 Demand: $300,000 policy limits in February 2018.
  • Plaintiff Final Demand before Trial: $1,500,000
  • Plaintiff Demand during Trial: $1,500,000
  • Defendant §998 Offer: None.
  • Defendant Final Offer before Trial: $300,000
  • Defendant Offer during Trial: $500,000

Additional Notes

Per plaintiff's counsel: The defendant’s insurance offered the $300,000 policy limits too late.

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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